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Howard Zinn on Obama, and the Promise

Mary Gordon, James Carroll, and Ellen Goodman join tonight’s panel


Howard Zinn, a BU professor emeritus of political science, and three other panelists will discuss The Promise of Change: Vision and Reality in Obama’s Presidency, tonight at the Tsai Performance Center. Photo by Matt Kalinowsky

President Barack Obama is getting clobbered by the left, the right, and the public, which is turning against the war in Afghanistan, fretting about unemployment and the bleak economy, and questioning whether he really should have won that Nobel Prize.

Tonight, a panel featuring Howard Zinn, a BU professor emeritus of political science, novelist Mary Gordon, author James Carroll, and Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman will weigh in. The Promise of Change: Vision and Reality in Obama’s Presidency is this year’s installment of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series, which kicks off Alumni Weekend 2009 at 7 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center. A live video feed for an overflow audience will be presented at the School of Law Auditorium.

Zinn — historian, playwright, and activist — taught at BU from 1964 until his retirement in 1988. He has published some 20 books, including his best-known work, A People’s History of the United States, and a memoir, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. His current project is a documentary based on A People’s History, which will be aired on the History Channel in December.

The panelists, Zinn says, are distinguished writers who will bring unique perspectives to the topic.

Mary Gordon, the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor in English and Writing at Barnard College, is the author of six novels, two memoirs, and a collection of short stories. Her book Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels will be published by Pantheon Books this month.

James Carroll was the Catholic chaplain at BU from 1969 to 1974, when he left the priesthood to become a writer. He is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University, a columnist for the Boston Globe, a regular contributor to The Daily Beast and has taught at Boston University. He has written several books, including the best seller Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (which also became a documentary he narrated) and this year’s Practicing Catholic.

Ellen Goodman has been writing about social change, particularly the women’s movement, and its impact on American life for more than three decades. She began writing her Globe column in 1974, and in 1980 won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. Her columns appear in more than 300 newspapers and have been published in six collections.

Zinn, a longtime antiwar activist, has been critical of Obama, saying he has not delivered on his rhetoric.

“I believe he is dominated by the same forces that have determined American foreign policy since World War II — the military industrial complex,” Zinn says. “He showed his subservience to the militarists as soon as he appointed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Robert Gates as secretary of defense. By surrounding himself with hawks, he has made it inevitable that he would pursue an aggressive military posture.”

He believes criticism of Obama’s performance on health-care and economic reform is justified, because Obama is pursuing them “half-heartedly.” His health policy, Zinn says, “is far short of what is needed: true health security, free for all, administered by the government like the Social Security system. And he is taking economic measures to bail out banks and financial institutions, but avoids giving direct aid to people who need it, because he believes in the ‘market system,’ in giving huge sums of money to the rich, claiming that will trickle down to the rest of the population.”

The Howard Zinn Lecture Series, made possible by the gift of Alex MacDonald (CAS’72) and Maureen A. Strafford (MED’76), is an annual talk on contemporary issues from a historical point of view.

The Promise of Change: Vision and Reality in Obama’s Presidency takes place tonight, October 22, at 7 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. An overflow audience will be accommodated at the School of Law Auditorium, 765 Commonwealth Ave., with a live video feed. Admission is free to the BU community, but tickets are required. More information is available at the Alumni Web site or by calling 800-800-3466.

Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at cbuccini@bu.edu.


11 Comments on Howard Zinn on Obama, and the Promise

  • Bob on 10.22.2009 at 8:49 am

    Let’s be honest, anyone could have won that election on a “change” platform following the Bush administration. It’s kind of sad to see very little change happening in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

  • jemimah on 10.22.2009 at 9:44 am

    Let’s be realistic: what do those of you think Obama hasn’t done anything, imagine is possible in so short a time? Do you think it’s all up to him? Do you really think you can turn this mess around in a few, short months? Do you not realize that in order for any of the good changes he promised to come about, we all have to participate? God, I’m sick of hearing all this whining while everyone just sits on their duffs and waits for change. That ain’t the way it works.

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 9:48 am

    How about some balance on this panel? Can we get anymore far left than this?

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 9:50 am


    How about some balance here? Can we get any more far left than this panel?

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 9:58 am

    short sighted

    That’s an embarrassingly short sighted comment. Do you even go to college? Here’s some “change”:

    1) guantanamo is closing
    2) reforming healthcare (see: $19 billion appropriated in stimulus to help implement an electronic medical record system. Establishing Health IT infrastructure cannot be understated.)
    3) rebranded america (see: nobel, and Muslim relations)
    4) renewed PR from the White House (see: new media efforts including online Q&A, blogs, social media interaction, weekly video addresses)
    5) reinvested in transportation (see: 260,000 jobs created for 2500 highway projects approved)
    6) aided education (see: instituted $2,500 tax credit to help debt-burdened families afford college tuition. 5 million families will save $9 billion)
    7) aided Pakistan (see: $5 billion in aid commitments to fight internal radicalism to snuff out Taliban control before it gets worse)
    8) Signed Omnibus Public Land Management Act, the largest conservation effort of the past two decades.

    Meanwhile, Zinn is too much of a Marxist/Idealist to acknowledge those achievements in the early-going.

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 1:13 pm

    Shortsighted, basically your list of “accomplishments” either haven’t actually happened yet (such as your first two listed) or were funded by increasing the national debt. Obama’s Nobel prize is interesting seeing as how the nominations were due last February. But I do agree Obama has much to offer in the way of relations with the muslim world. Let’s hope he succeeds.

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 1:57 pm

    Like Howard Zinn or not he is right is right on the money!

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2009 at 5:43 pm

    re: balance

    I feel good about these views being expressed in this forum. People can choose to physically go out of their way to expose themselves to the ideas that may come up in this forum, just as people can make the (much less meaningful) choice to be exposed to right wing/conservative perspectives (which are continuously given center stage in major mainstream news + opinion sources).

    It’s (not so) puzzling that even though everyone I know who has spoken with me or within earshot of me is in favor of a single-payer, free to all people, health system, and is strongly for peace and an end to violent armed occupations, neither of those issues are meaningfully represented or discussed in mainstream, consolidated media. (is it 5 or 4 companies that own all of it now?)

    thanks for reading.

  • Anonymous on 10.23.2009 at 8:41 am

    “Zinn, a longtime antiwar activist, has been critical of Obama, saying he has not delivered on his rhetoric. ”

    How can you expect anybody to deliver on rhetoric? It’s rhetoric!

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 12:27 am

    Zinn is right to make the point about Obama’s appointments; just look at who he inherited from the Clinton administration. Summers and Geithner, people who were instrumental in overturning depression era regulations including Glass-Steagall in 1999, that eventually led to the disaster that it is today. Geithner is basically a man for Citi more than he is Treasury Secretary.

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2009 at 1:41 pm

    Sick of all the criticism……

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