Full Text Inauguration 2009 January 20, 2009: President Barack Obama’s First Inaugural Address Transcript

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Hussein Obama Inaugural Address

My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our Nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the Presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.

So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our Nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the Nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly. Our schools fail too many. And each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land, a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our Nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted, for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things–some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor–who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard Earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked ’til their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive. Our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions, that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our Government is too big or too small, but whether it works; whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The Nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart, not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass, that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself, and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect, for the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service, a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as Government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this Nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends–honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism–these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our Nation, and the world. Duties that we do not grudgingly accept but, rather, seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence, the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed; why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The Capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our Revolution was most in doubt, the Father of our Nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world . . . that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive . . . that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end; that we did not turn back, nor did we falter. And with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Top Young Historians: 98 – Natasha Zaretsky

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

97: Shane Hamilton, 1-5-09

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia, 2005-Present
Area of Research: 20th-century U.S. sociopolitical, history of technology, history of agriculture and rural life, and history of capitalism.
Education: Ph.D. in History and Social Studies of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005.
Major Publications: Shane Hamilton is the author of Trucking Country: The Road to America’s Wal-Mart Economy (Princeton University Press, 2008). He has published articles and reviews in journals including Shane Hamilton JPGAgricultural History, Business History Review,  Enterprise & Society, Reviews in American History, and Technology and Culture. His article, “Cold Capitalism: The Political Ecology of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice,” which appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Agricultural History, won the 2003 Edward E. Everetts Award from the Agricultural History Society. He is currently working on a second book project tentatively titled “Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century.” Part of the research for this project will appear in spring 2009 as “Supermarket USA Confronts State Socialism: Airlifting the Technopolitics of Industrial Food Distribution into Cold War Yugoslavia,” in Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users, edited by Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann (MIT Press).       Awards: Hamilton is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including, among others: National Science Foundation Scholar’s Award, “Supermarket USA: Food, Technology, and Power in the American Century” Award No. 0646662, 2007; National Endowment for the Humanities, University of Georgia Nominee for Summer Stipend, 2007; Gilbert C. Fite Award for Best Dissertation in Agricultural History, Agricultural History Society, 2006;
Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference, 2006;
University of Georgia Alumni Research Foundation, Junior Faculty Research Grant in the Arts and Humanities, 2006;
Miller Center of Public Affairs, Charlottesville, VA, Fellow in History, Public Policy, and American Politics, 2004-2005;
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, Predoctoral Fellowship, 2003-2004;
Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Cambridge, MA, Graduate Fellowship, 2003-2004;
National Science Foundation, Dissertation Improvement Grant SES-0322268, 2003-2004;
Edward E. Everetts Award for Best Graduate Essay, Agricultural History Society, 2003;
Siegel Prize for Best Essay on Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sawyer Fellowship for “Modern Times/Rural Places,” 2001-2002;
National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mention, 2000.
Additional Info:
Hamilton has been featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Georgia Weekly,” SIRIUS Radio Network’s “Freewheelin’,” and WABC-AM’s “John Batchelor Show.” He will also appear in a documentary film by Nicholas Robespierre, Running Heavy, when that film finally makes its way into art-house cinemas. He also writes op-ed pieces for, among other outlets, the History News Network.

Personal Anecdote

While pursuing a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000s I formed a band, The Atomic Harvesters, which we declared to be “Boston’s Sexiest Lounge-Country Band.” Merging the instrumentation of 1950s-60s urban jazz with the raw simplicity of rural country music from the same period, the Atomic Harvesters drew on diverse musical inspirations, ranging from Hank Williams, Sr. to Billie Holiday to the Modern Jazz Quartet and Merle Haggard. The intellectual inspiration for the band name and concept, however, drew directly on a passage in James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State.

On page 272, Scott refers to Davis Meltzer’s artistic rendering of the “farm of the future” in the February 1970 issue of National Geographic magazine. In the image, two men operate a semi-autonomous farm of enormous scale from a glass-topped dome equipped with a supercomputer. Beef cattle are arrayed in what seems to be a “cattle condo,” architecturally not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum, except that cattle munching on antibiotic-laced feedstuffs fill the places of tourists and art critics. The farmer seated at the supercomputer operates an atomic-powered harvester, processing a grain field of near-infinite size into the foodstuffs of a consumer-driven economy. Meltzer’s image channels modernist Charles Scheeler’s paintings, in which individual workers are dwarfed by the machines that surround them in techno-pastoralist landscapes. Meltzer’s imagery borders on the surreal, yet evokes a very realistic world in which the Jeffersonian vision of independent farmers working the land with simple tools has been subsumed by the technocracy of late-twentieth-century capitalism.

Meltzer’s image provided the inspiration for my band’s name, as well as the title of one of our instrumentals, “Cattle Condo.” James Scott’s critique of high modernist agriculture, meanwhile, laid a cornerstone for my ongoing intellectual interest in the technology, political economy, social realities, and political culture of rural Americans living in a world of industrial agriculture, hypercapitalist consumerism, and profound antistatism-a world that I described in my first book, Trucking Country: The Road to America’s Wal-Mart Economy.

Meltzer’s 1970 imagining of the “farm of the future” and Jim Scott’s critique of high modernism focused on the vast material, political, and ideological gulfs separating urbanites from rural residents in the modern era. I sought in Trucking Country, by contrast, to show how the wrenching transformations of rural life in the mid- twentieth century were deeply intertwined with broader transformations in U.S. politics, economic realities, cultural beliefs, and social experiences. By thus contextualizing the historical experiences of rural Americans- even those country-music-lovin’ neopopulist truckers who self-identified as members of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority”-I demonstrated how rural workers helped to construct, from the 1930s through the 1970s, the economic realities and ideologies of neoliberalism that permeated the entire nation by the 1980s. These rural independent truckers, working in a world of industrial agribusiness, suburban supermarkets, and high modernist agricultural policymakers, found themselves with few choices other than to accept a “Wal-Mart economy”-decades before Wal-Mart became one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations.

I no longer have time to play much guitar, and the members of the Atomic Harvesters have spread to the four corners of the world. My fascination with the “farm of the future” and the rural people of the past, however, continues to drive my research-particularly as I work on my second book, “Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century.” There are far more country music songs about trucks than there are about supermarkets, so I unfortunately will not be integrating my musical interests and my historical research as tightly as I did in my first book. Unless, of course, I revive the Atomic Harvesters and write a couple of lounge-country tunes about U.S. supermarkets being airlifted into Yugoslavia, Italy, and Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s. If anyone knows of a rhyme for “Yugoslavia,” I’m all ears.

Quotes

By Shane Hamilton

  • Every truck stop in the nation sells belt buckles that proudly declare: “Independent Truckers Move America.” Trucking Country JPG In the following pages I reveal the motto’s deeper meaning, showing how agribusiness relied upon independent truckers to shift American capitalism into overdrive, introducing lean and mean business strategies and cultivating a culture of economic conservatism welcomed by both rural producers and suburban consumers. On country stretches of asphalt, in rural food factories, and in supermarket warehouses and shopping aisles, agribusinesses sowed the seeds of the anti-statist market populism that defined late-twentieth-century capitalism. Though it may seem surprising to link the country culture of trucking to the collapse of economic liberalism in America’s post-WWII consumer economy, we might do well to pay heed to the words of country musician Del Reeves. As he twanged in his 1968 jukebox hit, “looking at the world through a windshield” helps put “everything in a little bit different light.” — Shane Hamilton in “Trucking Country”
  • Florida orange growers were prideful, greedy, even callous, in their efforts to make profits out of industrial agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s. They did not, however, do so by incessantly increasing their production despite the limits imposed by their environment. They struggled to rationalize their industry, but to them, “rationalization” did not necessarily mean stability of production or simplification of the natural world. Instead, the particular political-economic situation of Florida orange growers in the period allowed them to create an industry that maintained oligopolistic control over prices. When freezes brought instability to production, the industry consequently turned less oranges into more money. This was perfectly “rational,” although not for consumers, in the sense that it was a logical response given the conditions of the industry at the time. Thus, it seems that the concept of “rationalized agriculture” tells us more about who is using the term than it does about the actual practice of industrial agriculture. Marxist critiques of industrial agriculture, just like neo-liberal glorifications of “free” enterprise, assume a clear logic to capitalism that does not necessarily exist. — Shane Hamilton in “Cold Capitalism: The Political Ecology of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice”

About Shane Hamilton

  • “This detailed, closely argued book chronicles the U.S. trucking industry’s history, particularly its role in rolling back New Deal policies and regulations. Hamilton is a knowledgeable guide to everything from beef trusts to the National Farmers Organization to the 1979 strike that opens the book, in which 75,000 truckers tried to shut down the nation’s highway system. Economy and market buffs looking for a different perspective on America’s 20th century economic evolution will find this intriguing and informative.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “With the US again engaged in a debate over the merits of regulation versus the free market, the book’s academic research touches on some timely historical issues. It is also a fascinating account of the political battles over the diesel engine and the refrigerated truck, which had emerged as the new technology of the 1920s and 1930s and a threat to the dominance of the railroad distribution system for beef and milk by a few large meat packing companies and local dairies.”– Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times
  • “Independent trucking is for Hamilton what Kansas was for Frank–the locus that shows a part of what has gone wrong with American politics.” — David Kusnet, Bookforum
  • “Trucking Country intervenes in [the] crowded debate over the demise of New Deal liberalism from a genuinely original vantage point: the political culture of independent long-haul truckers and the political economy shaped by the agribusiness corporations that they served.” — Matthew Lassiter, Democracy
  • “Move over Tom Frank. Hamilton shows that what buried the New Deal was not the recent rise of cultural conservatism, but a longstanding and deep rejection of government intervention in the economy. One of the best history books ever written on the origins of neoliberalism.” — Ted Steinberg, author of Down to Earth
  • “Shane Hamilton traces how an obscure loophole in transportation law helped reshape the rural economy–and, in the process, changed the way we eat. This is an imaginative, provocative piece of work.” — Marc Levinson, author of The Box
  • “Well-written and tightly argued, Shane Hamilton’s Trucking Country illuminates one of the twentieth century’s most important transformations: the role of independent truckers, many of them former farmers, in seizing the delivery of agricultural products from railroads, revolutionizing food distribution, and, paradoxically, abetting the triumph of agribusiness.” — Pete Daniel, National Museum of American History
  • “A startlingly original contribution. Shane Hamilton has crafted a truly fresh, unfamiliar, and enormously enlightening account of the decline of economic liberalism in postwar America. This is a brilliant book, one that should be read by anyone interested in exploring the intersection of politics, culture, and economics in modern America.” — Joseph A. McCartin, author of Labor’s Great War
  • “Trucking Country is a highly innovative and strikingly unique piece of work. Hamilton approaches one of the most intensely studied historical topics of the current scholarly generation–the demise of New Deal liberalism– from an angle that virtually no other social, political, labor, or cultural historian has attempted. Hamilton has written a superb and persuasive book.” — Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
  • “The best professor I have ever had, hands down. His knowledge of the material really was astonishing and he made his class very fair.”… “His enthusiasm for history was infectious.”… “He’s clearly passionate about history and makes his students want to learn. One of my best at UGA.”… “Not only did I learn a lot, but this was also one of the more challenging history classes I have taken–I really appreciate how you pushed us to think very deeply and critically about the subject matter.” — Comments from anonymous students

Posted on Monday, January 5, 2009 at 1:43 AM

Top Young Historians: 97 – Shane Hamilton

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

97: Shane Hamilton, 1-5-09

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia, 2005-Present
Area of Research: 20th-century U.S. sociopolitical, history of technology, history of agriculture and rural life, and history of capitalism.
Education: Ph.D. in History and Social Studies of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005.
Major Publications: Shane Hamilton is the author of Trucking Country: The Road to America’s Wal-Mart Economy (Princeton University Press, 2008). He has published articles and reviews in journals including Shane Hamilton JPGAgricultural History, Business History Review,  Enterprise & Society, Reviews in American History, and Technology and Culture. His article, “Cold Capitalism: The Political Ecology of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice,” which appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Agricultural History, won the 2003 Edward E. Everetts Award from the Agricultural History Society. He is currently working on a second book project tentatively titled “Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century.” Part of the research for this project will appear in spring 2009 as “Supermarket USA Confronts State Socialism: Airlifting the Technopolitics of Industrial Food Distribution into Cold War Yugoslavia,” in Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users, edited by Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann (MIT Press).       Awards: Hamilton is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including, among others: National Science Foundation Scholar’s Award, “Supermarket USA: Food, Technology, and Power in the American Century” Award No. 0646662, 2007; National Endowment for the Humanities, University of Georgia Nominee for Summer Stipend, 2007; Gilbert C. Fite Award for Best Dissertation in Agricultural History, Agricultural History Society, 2006;
Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference, 2006;
University of Georgia Alumni Research Foundation, Junior Faculty Research Grant in the Arts and Humanities, 2006;
Miller Center of Public Affairs, Charlottesville, VA, Fellow in History, Public Policy, and American Politics, 2004-2005;
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, Predoctoral Fellowship, 2003-2004;
Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Cambridge, MA, Graduate Fellowship, 2003-2004;
National Science Foundation, Dissertation Improvement Grant SES-0322268, 2003-2004;
Edward E. Everetts Award for Best Graduate Essay, Agricultural History Society, 2003;
Siegel Prize for Best Essay on Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sawyer Fellowship for “Modern Times/Rural Places,” 2001-2002;
National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mention, 2000.
Additional Info:
Hamilton has been featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Georgia Weekly,” SIRIUS Radio Network’s “Freewheelin’,” and WABC-AM’s “John Batchelor Show.” He will also appear in a documentary film by Nicholas Robespierre, Running Heavy, when that film finally makes its way into art-house cinemas. He also writes op-ed pieces for, among other outlets, the History News Network.

Personal Anecdote

While pursuing a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000s I formed a band, The Atomic Harvesters, which we declared to be “Boston’s Sexiest Lounge-Country Band.” Merging the instrumentation of 1950s-60s urban jazz with the raw simplicity of rural country music from the same period, the Atomic Harvesters drew on diverse musical inspirations, ranging from Hank Williams, Sr. to Billie Holiday to the Modern Jazz Quartet and Merle Haggard. The intellectual inspiration for the band name and concept, however, drew directly on a passage in James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State.

On page 272, Scott refers to Davis Meltzer’s artistic rendering of the “farm of the future” in the February 1970 issue of National Geographic magazine. In the image, two men operate a semi-autonomous farm of enormous scale from a glass-topped dome equipped with a supercomputer. Beef cattle are arrayed in what seems to be a “cattle condo,” architecturally not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum, except that cattle munching on antibiotic-laced feedstuffs fill the places of tourists and art critics. The farmer seated at the supercomputer operates an atomic-powered harvester, processing a grain field of near-infinite size into the foodstuffs of a consumer-driven economy. Meltzer’s image channels modernist Charles Scheeler’s paintings, in which individual workers are dwarfed by the machines that surround them in techno-pastoralist landscapes. Meltzer’s imagery borders on the surreal, yet evokes a very realistic world in which the Jeffersonian vision of independent farmers working the land with simple tools has been subsumed by the technocracy of late-twentieth-century capitalism.

Meltzer’s image provided the inspiration for my band’s name, as well as the title of one of our instrumentals, “Cattle Condo.” James Scott’s critique of high modernist agriculture, meanwhile, laid a cornerstone for my ongoing intellectual interest in the technology, political economy, social realities, and political culture of rural Americans living in a world of industrial agriculture, hypercapitalist consumerism, and profound antistatism-a world that I described in my first book, Trucking Country: The Road to America’s Wal-Mart Economy.

Meltzer’s 1970 imagining of the “farm of the future” and Jim Scott’s critique of high modernism focused on the vast material, political, and ideological gulfs separating urbanites from rural residents in the modern era. I sought in Trucking Country, by contrast, to show how the wrenching transformations of rural life in the mid- twentieth century were deeply intertwined with broader transformations in U.S. politics, economic realities, cultural beliefs, and social experiences. By thus contextualizing the historical experiences of rural Americans- even those country-music-lovin’ neopopulist truckers who self-identified as members of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority”-I demonstrated how rural workers helped to construct, from the 1930s through the 1970s, the economic realities and ideologies of neoliberalism that permeated the entire nation by the 1980s. These rural independent truckers, working in a world of industrial agribusiness, suburban supermarkets, and high modernist agricultural policymakers, found themselves with few choices other than to accept a “Wal-Mart economy”-decades before Wal-Mart became one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations.

I no longer have time to play much guitar, and the members of the Atomic Harvesters have spread to the four corners of the world. My fascination with the “farm of the future” and the rural people of the past, however, continues to drive my research-particularly as I work on my second book, “Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century.” There are far more country music songs about trucks than there are about supermarkets, so I unfortunately will not be integrating my musical interests and my historical research as tightly as I did in my first book. Unless, of course, I revive the Atomic Harvesters and write a couple of lounge-country tunes about U.S. supermarkets being airlifted into Yugoslavia, Italy, and Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s. If anyone knows of a rhyme for “Yugoslavia,” I’m all ears.

Quotes

By Shane Hamilton

  • Every truck stop in the nation sells belt buckles that proudly declare: “Independent Truckers Move America.” Trucking Country JPG In the following pages I reveal the motto’s deeper meaning, showing how agribusiness relied upon independent truckers to shift American capitalism into overdrive, introducing lean and mean business strategies and cultivating a culture of economic conservatism welcomed by both rural producers and suburban consumers. On country stretches of asphalt, in rural food factories, and in supermarket warehouses and shopping aisles, agribusinesses sowed the seeds of the anti-statist market populism that defined late-twentieth-century capitalism. Though it may seem surprising to link the country culture of trucking to the collapse of economic liberalism in America’s post-WWII consumer economy, we might do well to pay heed to the words of country musician Del Reeves. As he twanged in his 1968 jukebox hit, “looking at the world through a windshield” helps put “everything in a little bit different light.” — Shane Hamilton in “Trucking Country”
  • Florida orange growers were prideful, greedy, even callous, in their efforts to make profits out of industrial agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s. They did not, however, do so by incessantly increasing their production despite the limits imposed by their environment. They struggled to rationalize their industry, but to them, “rationalization” did not necessarily mean stability of production or simplification of the natural world. Instead, the particular political-economic situation of Florida orange growers in the period allowed them to create an industry that maintained oligopolistic control over prices. When freezes brought instability to production, the industry consequently turned less oranges into more money. This was perfectly “rational,” although not for consumers, in the sense that it was a logical response given the conditions of the industry at the time. Thus, it seems that the concept of “rationalized agriculture” tells us more about who is using the term than it does about the actual practice of industrial agriculture. Marxist critiques of industrial agriculture, just like neo-liberal glorifications of “free” enterprise, assume a clear logic to capitalism that does not necessarily exist. — Shane Hamilton in “Cold Capitalism: The Political Ecology of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice”

About Shane Hamilton

  • “This detailed, closely argued book chronicles the U.S. trucking industry’s history, particularly its role in rolling back New Deal policies and regulations. Hamilton is a knowledgeable guide to everything from beef trusts to the National Farmers Organization to the 1979 strike that opens the book, in which 75,000 truckers tried to shut down the nation’s highway system. Economy and market buffs looking for a different perspective on America’s 20th century economic evolution will find this intriguing and informative.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “With the US again engaged in a debate over the merits of regulation versus the free market, the book’s academic research touches on some timely historical issues. It is also a fascinating account of the political battles over the diesel engine and the refrigerated truck, which had emerged as the new technology of the 1920s and 1930s and a threat to the dominance of the railroad distribution system for beef and milk by a few large meat packing companies and local dairies.”– Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times
  • “Independent trucking is for Hamilton what Kansas was for Frank–the locus that shows a part of what has gone wrong with American politics.” — David Kusnet, Bookforum
  • “Trucking Country intervenes in [the] crowded debate over the demise of New Deal liberalism from a genuinely original vantage point: the political culture of independent long-haul truckers and the political economy shaped by the agribusiness corporations that they served.” — Matthew Lassiter, Democracy
  • “Move over Tom Frank. Hamilton shows that what buried the New Deal was not the recent rise of cultural conservatism, but a longstanding and deep rejection of government intervention in the economy. One of the best history books ever written on the origins of neoliberalism.” — Ted Steinberg, author of Down to Earth
  • “Shane Hamilton traces how an obscure loophole in transportation law helped reshape the rural economy–and, in the process, changed the way we eat. This is an imaginative, provocative piece of work.” — Marc Levinson, author of The Box
  • “Well-written and tightly argued, Shane Hamilton’s Trucking Country illuminates one of the twentieth century’s most important transformations: the role of independent truckers, many of them former farmers, in seizing the delivery of agricultural products from railroads, revolutionizing food distribution, and, paradoxically, abetting the triumph of agribusiness.” — Pete Daniel, National Museum of American History
  • “A startlingly original contribution. Shane Hamilton has crafted a truly fresh, unfamiliar, and enormously enlightening account of the decline of economic liberalism in postwar America. This is a brilliant book, one that should be read by anyone interested in exploring the intersection of politics, culture, and economics in modern America.” — Joseph A. McCartin, author of Labor’s Great War
  • “Trucking Country is a highly innovative and strikingly unique piece of work. Hamilton approaches one of the most intensely studied historical topics of the current scholarly generation–the demise of New Deal liberalism– from an angle that virtually no other social, political, labor, or cultural historian has attempted. Hamilton has written a superb and persuasive book.” — Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
  • “The best professor I have ever had, hands down. His knowledge of the material really was astonishing and he made his class very fair.”… “His enthusiasm for history was infectious.”… “He’s clearly passionate about history and makes his students want to learn. One of my best at UGA.”… “Not only did I learn a lot, but this was also one of the more challenging history classes I have taken–I really appreciate how you pushed us to think very deeply and critically about the subject matter.” — Comments from anonymous students

Posted on Monday, January 5, 2009 at 1:43 AM

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