Sunday, November 02, 2008


From the Nation via AlterNet:

Studs Terkel, You Will Be Missed

Long before others dared do so, the man who immortalized the generation of Americans who fought "the good war" of the 1940s termed the Iraq War "a quagmire for America."

"We were the most honored country in the world at the end of World War II," he noted. "Now we're the most loathed country. We need a media that asks: 'What the hell are we doing there?' "

Studs was delighted when, in 2004, a young Chicago state senator with whom he had marched on picket lines, was elected to the US Senate on an anti-war "what-the-hell-are-we-doing-there?" platform.

He followed Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency with enthusiasm. The old civil rights campaigner wanted to see an African-American elected president in his lifetime.

But he also wanted the Democrat to remember his roots as, dare we say it, a community activist. "Obama can't be a moderate!" Studs said in one of his last interviews. "He's got to remember where he comes from! Obama, he has got to be pushed!"

In particular, the man who well recalled the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency wanted to make sure that Obama was pressed to promote a new New Deal.

More here.

Terkel died Friday at the age of 96. He's been a public figure in the US going back to the 1930s, but I only came to know what he was about during the last decade or so, thanks to the many interviews he gave Democracy Now. He was a working class, left-wing radio and television personality, and personality is a good word to use because you just couldn't stop listening once he started speaking. He was also a prolific and interesting writer, although I've only read a few of his essays, and none of his books.

He was, indeed, a big deal to the American left. But here's what he meant to me. The first time I heard one of those aforementioned Democracy Now interviews, I was blown away by the juxtaposition of his age with what he had to say. I mean, I've known that the class struggle in this country goes back to its beginning and before, but I've always felt unreasonably that old people are necessarily conservative, stuck in the past, with old and out of date values and priorities. But Terkel, the old man, was speaking my language. And he was there for all the great stuff in America's left-wing past. The labor movement, the socialist movement, the fight against fascism and McCarthyism. I felt automatically connected to all that through him. And here he was speaking out against the injustices of today, just as he always did.

Quick aside: screw the hippies for making me think that old equals conservative--if I live to see my 90s, I hope I'm even more radical than I am now.

Studs Terkel connected me to a part of American history that they don't really teach in school, the struggle against rule-by-wealth, and for the empowerment of the common man, the regular guy. He made me love this country all the more by giving me some emotional connection to a side of it I was never really sure existed. Leftism is as American as apple pie and all that shit. And Terkel was a great American.

Farewell, Studs Terkel.