Mary E. Stuckey


On her book Political Vocabularies: FDR, the Clergy Letters, and the Elements of Political Argument

Cover Interview of May 27, 2018

The wide angle

The book looks at how people form the different political worlds in which they live. Perhaps we agree, in a broad sense, on what it means to be an “American.” But we have very different interpretations of what that means when it comes to acting on those principles and making political decisions. For example, we might all agree that “equality” is central to American political culture. But some of us argue that this dedication to equality means we must support social welfare programs while others just as sincerely maintain that it means we should eliminate those programs. This book examines how it is possible for people, who are dedicated to the same values and who look at the same political phenomena, can have such different understandings of the action that should be taken by the nation.

I have long been interested in US politics, and in how we craft a collective sense of ourselves as a nation and as citizens; I’ve published several books on related topics. I’ve also done a fair amount of work on Roosevelt; so combining those two things seemed very natural. I encountered the letters I use as the texts for this book while I was doing work on another project, and the letters themselves are just captivating to read. I kept going back to them, and finally admitted I had to write a book that used them.