American Thinkers, continued

Fantastic suggestions, interesting discussion. If you didn’t read through the comments, the original prompt was, “Who could help the Democratic Party think about a ‘narrative’ that would help the party connect more powerfully with established, deeply historical, strains of thought and sentiment in American society?” My original response to the question was to suggest that public policy figures, experts, and political advisors are unlikely to be helpful for the most part, and I started off down the road described in my original post.

So here are other names from my list that didn’t come up in the comments, in no particular order.

Tim O’Brian
Walter Mosley
Caitlin Flanagan
Marjane Satrapi
Michael Chabon
Alice Munro
Bruce Schneier
James Fallows
Anthony Appiah
Alan Taylor
Alexandra Fuller
Michela Wrong
Philip Gourevitch
Bill Bryson
Jon Krakauer
Timothy Garton Ash
Michael Ignatieff
David Hollinger
Fareed Zakaria
Henry Louis Gates
Clay Shirky
Thomas Hammes

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22 Responses to American Thinkers, continued

  1. withywindle says:

    Jean Bethke Elshtain.
    Victor Davis Hanson is still a registered Democrat.
    Rod Dreher
    Marshall Wittman
    John McWhorter

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    McWhorter’s a nice choice. Elshtain too.

    Can’t say that I have a good opinion of Hanson’s grasp on anything *except* classicism, where he can be interesting.

    Don’t know Dreher or Wittman. Off to have a look.

  3. SamChevre says:

    This comment is sort of scattershot.

    Not a current thinker; not a thinker at all, but a school of thought; but I find “I’ll Take My Stand” to be a surprisingly relevant piece of writing every time I read it.

    Other books/writers I’d suggest:
    H L Mencken; again, surprisingly current-feeling for it’s age
    Wendell Berry–definitely closer to Russell Arben Fox than to you.
    Rod Dreher is in that same tradition in my mind.

    I really don’t know who writes well about “traditional” American society, which is probably where the Democrats are weakest. Two ideas to play with:
    1) Inherent obligations vs negotiated commitments. I found this idea on Camassia’s blog (, but she got it from Doug Muder (
    2) Individuals vs communities; this lines up closely with the previous point, actually.

    David Hackett Fisher, “Albion’s Seed”, is one of the most interesting books I’ve read. It’s thesis makes a lot of sense to me–partly because it explained well what people I trust and am comfortable around and which ones will always seem somewhat strange.

  4. texter says:

    Very interesting!
    I like the idea of Marjane Sartrapi. I taught a graphic novel (not hers) and the students were intensely engaged.

    I also like Philip Gourevitch, Michaela Wrong, Anthony Appiah and Michael Ignatieff.

    Henry Louis Gates was mentioned in earlier list by poster McCann. Thanks for the thought-provoking question.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Right, I forgot Sean mentioned Gates.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Hey, Withywindle, thanks for Marshall Whittman! I like his blog. Just spent a goodly time reading back through it.

  7. Caleb McDaniel

    Manan Ahmed

    Anne Zook….

  8. dmerkow says:

    I’d add Michael Sandel. The only challenge is that he wants to revolutionize the narrative rather than tap into one that is already there. Though there are certainly components to his vision that would valuable to a Democratic Party trying to revitalize itself. I’d add also Christopher Buckley, who is not nearly as partisan as his father but has his finger on the American psyche.

  9. maniaku says:

    Hrmm. Michael Ignatieff is a strange character. You would never know from his NYT op-ed pieces that he is now canadian MP with sites to be prime minister.

  10. Timothy Burke says:

    I’m thinking of the guy at the Kennedy School.

  11. Timothy Burke says:

    ! I didn’t know that !

  12. Gary Farber says:

    I know some won’t find her left enough, but I wouldn’t mind if the Democratic party paid more attention to Anne Applebaum. (And the folks at Democracy Arsenal.)

    Possibly Timothy Garton Ash.

  13. Gary Farber says:

    I also still like Paul Berman.

  14. Gary Farber says:

    “Don’t know Dreher or Wittman.”

    Dreher is a standard National Review clone. I wouldn’t recommend him, myself.

    Wittman is better known as the “Bull Moose.” I wouldn’t recommend him, either, unless you want to hear how Democrats should be more Republican.

  15. withywindle says:

    Tim – You’re welcome for Marshall Wittmann! Rod Dreher’s blog you can find at He’s the writer on “crunchy conservatism,” and so, of course, hardly standard National Review material–although they have given him a respectful hearing. Dreher might well be a Democrat, if not for abortion; Wittman wants desperately to continue to be a Democrat, if they can give up the wussiness. All the names on my list are people who would rather be Democrats, but may be forced to be Republican by the narrowness of the Democratic party, and of liberal ideology. So, yes, I rather think Democrats and liberals ought to listen to them. The Republican party, and conservatives, are fruitfully broadened because they do listen to and respect their thoughts.

  16. gswhite says:

    Indeed, Michael Ignatieff’s sudden re-discovery of his Canadian identity seems opportunistic in the extreme to many folks up here. The Globe and Mail columnist Jeffery Simpson has written about how grating it was to see him write things like “we Americans” when he was at Harvard and then suddenly want to be our PM. Another Globe columnist (can’t remember exactly who, might have been Simpson again) opined that in most serious, democratic countries this sort of parachuting would be laughed right out town, but for some reason in Canada it makes you a contender for the top political job. The rise of Ignatieff as politician sure doesn’t say anything good about the state of Canadian democracy, to say nothing of Canadian self-esteem.

  17. withywindle says:

    Andreas Papandreou became prime minister of Greece after a stint in American academia.

  18. ebehren1 says:

    I got to the party late. Tavis Smiley came to mind as a person who seems to have tremendous access to popular and political culture, and as somebody who has been able to comment on politics without becoming identified as strictly polemical. And he’s also been remarkable in speaking on a lot of racial issues to a largely white audience. If the discussion is race and class, I’d have him on your dream team. (I’d originally thought of Eric Michael Dyson, but you specifically said you didn’t want that type of writer.)

    I was also thinking of the music world, and thought about the people who’ve had repeated success as producers. Mutt Lange came to mind, but he’s slowed down abit ever since he shacked up with Shania. Jack White may be headed in the direction you’re talking about. He’s working strictly with very conventional and strictly American musical forms– and making them work for both popular rock and country audiences. And he’s able to talk pretty intelligently about what he’s up to. He might be a little too weird for your list, though.

  19. Timothy Burke says:

    Weird is good. Nice suggestions. I agree about Tavis Smiley for sure.

  20. scott reents says:

    Sort of obvious, but… Bruce Springsteen?

  21. laurel says:

    In the vein of radio figures, Terri Gross. She’s interviewed tons and tons of people over the years, and pushes them in really interesting ways.

    Michael Pollan, though several people have said his most recent articles are kind of annoying (I can’t read them, because I’m not a subscriber).

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