Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Would Have Celebrated His 91st Birthday Today—and Loved the Year in Politics

Dad would have loved the ups, downs, and improbabilities of this political year.


My late father, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., would have celebrated his 91st birthday today. Given the year in politics, I think he would be enjoying himself.

Dad would be delighted with Barack Obama. He probably would have supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries—he was a huge Hillary fan—but he would have happily joined his old friend Ted Sorensen in the Obama camp once the race was settled. Even during the primaries, he would have enjoyed the ups, downs, and improbabilities—and might even have indulged in thoughts of a brokered convention, as in days gone by.

The issue of race relations in America was a lifelong passion and concern of Dad's, so he would be excited about the prospect of the nation electing a black president. He would be cautiously optimistic, concerned about what white voters would finally do in the privacy of the voting booth. Certainly, he would be gratified that the overwhelming majority of the electorate had finally come to share his view of George W. Bush.

And while he would take little joy in the current financial turmoil, he would have been surprised neither by it nor by the subsequent collapse in the public's faith in free markets and free market ideology. Dad (and his father before him) argued the cycles theory of American history—that, as a nation, we have alternated between periods of government activism and pro-business moods. The 1920s, 1950s, and 1980s were eras of conservatism and the free market, for example, while the 1930s and 1960s were progressive eras.

The 1990s were a funny thing. Bill Clinton's election seemed to signal a turn of the cycle, right on target, but the GOP congressional triumph in 1994, Clinton's subsequent centrist turn, and Bush's 2000 victory (or "victory," depending on how you want to count Florida ballots) gave pause. Ultimately, though, Clinton's was a left-of-center presidency, the congressional Republicans retreated from their revolutionary rhetoric and became big spenders, and Bush will be remembered as leading an activist (if incompetent) administration that expanded Medicare and partially nationalized the country's biggest banks. Perhaps the cycle turned after all—a shift that may well be confirmed on November 4.

Happy birthday, Dad. I miss you.