Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

December 03, 2006

Presidential historian follies

The remarkable thing is that the Washington Post found only one historian, Eric Foner, who was willing to say that George W. Bush is the WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER. (Another, Michael Lind, said he's "merely the fifth worst"; one, Douglas Brinkley, compared him to Hoover; yet another, David Greenberg said that for now, anyway, he's not as bad as Nixon.)

If we weren't talking about the Washington Post and about current academic historians, of course, we would probably find that all five of them responded something like this: "You want me to offer an opinion on Bush's place in history? Morons! The man has two years left in office. You can't possibly judge a president for at least 10 years after he's left office."

Whereas only one of the actual historians, Vincent Cannato, went to the trouble of explaining that our historical opinions of earlier presidents had changed over time and suggested it would be appropriate to wait before rendering judgment.

At this same point in Bill Clinton's tenure, right after the 6th-year elections, Clinton was about to become only the second president ever impeached by the House and the first ever impeached on charges that constitute actual crimes in real life (perjury and obstruction of justice), for which he would later lose his license to practice law. His Senate impeachment trial was around the corner.

If asked at that time to evaluate Clinton's place in history, any competent academic historian would have said, "Hey, let's wait, oh, about 10 years before we come to any judgment on the man's presidency, because if he decides to pick the day before debate on the impeachment resolution is scheduled to start to send a cruise missile into the camp where Osama bin Laden had recently been and somehow hits him, then maybe September 11 will never occur and he'll be a hero."

But who can find competent academic historians?

Instead, the Post would have found four out of five academic historians willing to say that the impeachment was "all about sex" and that Clinton was possibly the second best president ever, behind John F. Kennedy, who would have pulled us out of Vietnam if he had lived, sparing Bill Clinton the need to loathe the military and later become a "chickenhawk" on Iraq. Or at least Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would have said this, if he were still alive. *

* No disrespect intended to ASJr. if he happens to be reading this. He used to be a good historian.

UPDATE: Maryland Conservatarian has his own thoughts on the historians.