Marc C. Johnson

Official Site of the Author and Historian

 
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Political Hell-Raiser was a Spur Award finalist for Best Western Biography of 2019

 

Books

Coming in February 2021

Pre-order now available

Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party 

How did our politics become so partisan and polarized? Why has the U.S. Senate gone from “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to dysfunction? Why does “outside” money have such an outsized role in every Senate election? A major part of the answer to those questions has its origin in four Senate races in 1980 where “independent expenditure” campaigns targeted four Senate liberals. 


In his forthcoming book Marc Johnson explains how Senate races in Idaho, Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota in the pivotal political year of 1980 continue to shape American politics. Drawing upon archival research, interviews and a deep understanding of political campaigns, Johnson charts the decline in American democracy and a radicalization of the GOP that has its roots in places like Boise and Sioux Falls, Cedar Rapids and Fort Wayne.


This book helps explain American politics today and how we got there. Tuesday Night Massacre will be published early in 2021 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler

Burton K. Wheeler is the most powerful politician Montana ever produced and one of the most significant members of the United States Senate during three of the most eventful decades in American history.

Extensively researched and including new archival sources this is the first full-length biography of one of the Senate’s most fascinating and controversial figures.

-Published by the University of Oklahoma Press

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About the Author

Marc Johnson’s writing on politics and history has appeared in numerous regional and national publications, including the New York Times, the California Journal of Politics and Policy, Montana – The Magazine of Western History and The Blue Review, the policy journal of Boise State University. His blog and podcast on history and politics is entitled Many Things Considered.


A journalism graduate of South Dakota State University, where he was named an outstanding alumni, Johnson has chaired both the Idaho Humanities Council and the Federation of State Humanities Councils and has frequently served as a National Endowment for the Humanities site visitor. He has taught courses on politics and history at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Boise State University and the University of Arizona.


Johnson has worked as a broadcast journalist, a top aide to Idaho’s longest serving governor Cecil D. Andrus, and as a communication and crisis management consultant.

 
 

Articles

The Montana Roots of The Plot Against America

Philip Roth’s novel, a tale of a fascist takeover of America in 1940 where rampant anti- Semitism prevails, imagines a counter-factual history in which Charles Lindbergh, campaigning on a promise of “America First,” defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. In Roth’s telling, Montana’s once powerful Senator Burton K. Wheeler becomes Lindbergh’s vice president and eventually the “acting president.” During a period of widespread anti-Semitic riots he imposes martial law and orders the arrest of prominent American Jews. Roth’s revisionist account of how fascism came to America 80 years ago resonates anew in our time when a president with authoritarian instincts and a penchant for stoking division dominates American political life.

The Man Behind Montana's Contradictory, Confusing, and Occasionally Crazy Political Culture

The story of Montana’s independence starts with an odd bit of dependence: For nearly 75 years the state’s economy was dominated by a gigantic multinational corporation, the Anaconda Mining Company—properly named after the giant snake, since Anaconda maintained a stranglehold on the state’s politics.

The McCarthy Era in Idaho

The short period from 1947 to 1956 may well have been the most tumultuous and also the nastiest period in Idaho political history. In under a decade, eight different men represented Idaho in the United States Senate, four incumbent senators — two from each party — lost re-election, the state was represented three times by appointed senators, two incumbents died in office and one senator, Glen Hearst Taylor, one of the few Democrats ever elected to the Senate from Idaho, bolted his party in 1948 and ran for vice president on the Progressive Party ticket.

 

Featured Content

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C-SPAN

Political Career of Senator Burton K. Wheeler

Journalist Marc Johnson gave an illustrated talk about U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler (D-Montana), who served from 1923 to 1947. He’s known for being a prosecutor in the 1920s Teapot Dome oil scandal, and for initially supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, then opposing his attempt to add more justices to the Supreme Court, and favoring the anti-interventionist America First Committee.


Hosted by The Montana Historical Society and broadcast on C-SPAN

 
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Blog

Many Things Considered

In “Many Things Considered” one-time journalist and full-time political analyst Marc Johnson applies his passion for context to connect current politics with political history.


What are the links between the debacle of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and the Tea Party movement?


Did Alexander Hamilton foresee the partisanship that now surrounds judicial appointments?


Why haven’t third parties had political success in America?


Johnson weaves interviews, archival sound, humor and authoritative narration to connect political history to today’s political stories.

 
 

Reviews

In a recent review in Presidential Studies Quarterly historian Dean J. Kotlowski writes: “Wheeler has found a worthy biographer in Johnson. Well-written, eminently fair-minded, and scrupulously researched in relevant manuscript collections...Political Hell-Raiser comes close to being the final word on Wheeler, for a better biography is unlikely to be published any time soon.”

“This long-awaited and first extensive biography of one of America’s most effective and productive U.S. senators, the honorable maverick Burton K. Wheeler, arrives right on time. We Americans need a good and true story like this—about a determined lawyer who defended the rights of day laborers in a hard-rock mining camp out West and went on to represent his constituents as their U.S. senator to his final breath. Marc Johnson has provided that biography.”


Pat Williams - U.S. Representative from Montana, 1979–1997 

“Marc Johnson has delivered the long-awaited life story of the national statesman who represented Montana in the U.S. Senate with ‘more than one man’s share of fights’ during the twentieth century’s transformative second quarter. At last, Burton K. Wheeler has the biography his public service deserves.”


Richard A. Baker - U.S. Senate Historian Emeritus and coauthor of The American Senate: An Insider’s History 

“Marc Johnson’s biography of Burton K. Wheeler rescues an important early-twentieth-century U.S. senator from obscurity. Recapturing the colorful qualities of this most independent of politicians, he expands our understanding of Wheeler’s significance and our country’s past even as he provides guidelines for thinking about our current political issues.”

Robert Dallek - author of Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life and An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

In a new review in The American Conservative, historian Richard Drake praises author Marc Johnson’s research and insights. “Johnson leaves room for argument about Wheeler’s legacy,” Drake says, “but he performs a welcome service by bringing forth this hell-raiser’s story from out of the shadows of public forgetfulness. It is the story of a ruggedly independent-minded patriot whose prophetic warnings about the danger posed to the American people by their militarized empire have come to pass in our time.”

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/a-forgotten-rugged-patriot-for-america-first/

 

In the Press

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Listen to Reader's Corner host Bob Kustra interviewing Marc Johnson on Boise State Public Radio.

Boise State Public Radio

June 24, 2019

While not a household name, Burton K. Wheeler may have been the most powerful politician Montana ever produced, and he was one of the most influential and controversial members of the United States senate.   A New Deal Democrat and lifelong opponent of concentrated power, he consistently acted with a righteous personal and political independence that has all but disappeared from the public sphere.

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Marc Johnson Discusses Former Senator Burton K. Wheeler on the air with Brian Kahn

Home Ground Radio
May 20, 2019

For 40 years, Burton K. Wheeler wielded great power in Montana and Washington D.C. A man of courage and contradictions, he stood up to copper kings but was fooled by Hitler. Marc Johnson’s portent new biography tells the story.

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Political Powerhouse of the Past: A Biography of U.S. Senator B.K. Wheeler

Montana Press Monthly
May 17, 2019

Marc C. Johnson speaks to the Montana Press about his new book and his perspective on political history.

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Meet Burton K. Wheeler: The onetime senator from Montana who wasn't afraid of anything

The Billings Gazette
May 10, 2019

Burton K. Wheeler is a dinosaur.
His type doesn't really exist anymore, and most people don't know a lot about the former Montana senator. But in his day, he was a ferocious "hell raiser" who wasn't afraid of anything — from the huge mining interests that controlled the Montana to the powerful president of the United States.

New book chronicles life of Burton K. Wheeler, iconoclastic Montana senator and Butte legend

Montana Standard
May 5, 2019

Butte loved Burton K. Wheeler, and he loved Butte back.
Now, an important new book — the definitive political biography of the fiercely progressive and iconoclastic senator — has been published.
"Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana," was authoritatively researched and written by longtime Western journalist, political aide and consultant Marc C. Johnson.

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Montana's most powerful politician isn't whom you'd expect

Great Falls Tribune
May 6, 2019

"If I seem to have done everything the hard way, I have no regrets — I would do it the same way again." — Sen. Burton K. Wheeler

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Author recalls how bipartisanship thwarted FDR’s court-packing scheme

Idaho Mountain Express
April 26, 2019

In Washington, D.C., what’s rarer than bipartisan agreement these days? It might be a new idea.
Marc Johnson, author of a new book called “Political Hell-Raiser: the Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana,” told an audience in Ketchum on Tuesday night that some Democratic presidential candidates are reviving an idea that former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried in the 1930s.

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MT Lowdown Podcast – Episode 16: “Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana”

Montana Free Press
April 23, 2019

Burton K. Wheeler was an original maverick. A “Political Hellraiser,” according to a new full-length biography of the former Montana Senator by historian Marc Johnson.

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Journalist Marc Johnson gave an illustrated talk about U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler (D-Montana), who served from 1923 to 1947.

C-SPAN
April 18, 2019

He’s known for being a prosecutor in the 1920s Teapot Dome oil scandal, and for initially supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, then opposing his attempt to add more justices to the Supreme Court, and favoring the anti-interventionist America First Committee. Mr. Johnson is the author of “Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana.” The Montana Historical Society hosted this program.

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Political Hell-Raiser

Ridenbaugh Press
April 11, 2019

Long-time Pacific Northwest political columnist Randy Stapilus says in a review of “Political Hell-Raiser,” that author Marc Johnson “has done fine work here shining a light on a part of American history we often do not see (or might feel uncomfortable examining). Much of it, too much, resonates with American as it is most of a century later.”

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Marc Johnson Chronicles The Life Of Montana's Hell-Raising Senator

Boise State Public Radio
April 8, 2019

Writer Marc Johnson's new book, “Political Hell-Raiser: The Life and Times of Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana,” paints a picture of an irascible politician who supported FDR but was staunchly against intervening in WWII, until December 7, 1941. He was a pro-labor advocate who took on Montana's copper barons and was talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 1940. Johnson joins Idaho Matters to tell the story of the man who called himself "The Yankee from the West."

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Q & A with Boise author Marc C. Johnson

Idaho Press
May 12, 2019

Marc Johnson responds to questions about his career, his work as a journalist and his book on one of the Senate’s great mavericks.

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A Century of Leadership

November 21, 2019

Why has a sparsely populated state like Montana produced so many national political leaders? Historian Marc C. Johnson and Montana journalist Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison recently considered that question during a forum at the Montana Historical Society in Helena.

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The Man Behind Montana's Contradictory, Confusing, and Occasionally Crazy Political Culture

September 12, 2019

The story of Montana’s independence starts with an odd bit of dependence: For nearly 75 years the state’s economy was dominated by a gigantic multinational corporation, the Anaconda Mining Company—properly named after the giant snake, since Anaconda maintained a stranglehold on the state’s politics.

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The Montana Roots of "The Plot Against America"

April 2020

Philip Roth’s novel, a tale of a fascist takeover of America in 1940 where rampant anti- Semitism prevails, imagines a counter-factual history in which Charles Lindbergh, campaigning on a promise of “America First,” defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. In Roth’s telling, Montana’s once powerful Senator Burton K. Wheeler becomes Lindbergh’s vice president and eventually the “acting president.” During a period of widespread anti-Semitic riots he imposes martial law and orders the arrest of prominent American Jews. Roth’s revisionist account of how fascism came to America 80 years ago resonates anew in our time when a president with authoritarian instincts and a penchant for stoking division dominates American political life.

 
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©2019 by Marc C Johnson