Get PJ Media on your Apple

Historians Begin to Gild Obama’s Reputation

Getting an early start on the "legacy" game.

by
John Rosenberg

Bio

February 19, 2014 - 11:27 pm
Page 1 of 2  Next ->   View as Single Page

The problem with fixing the historical reputation of presidents — in both meanings of “fix”: securing in place and repairing — is that it is done by historians. That problem is manifest in Politico’s recent invitation to “ten leading historians” to write a paragraph on “Obama’s rank in the pantheon of American presidents.”

If journalists write the first draft of history, one of the striking things about this collection is how little any of the ten historians revise in any way the conventional wisdom that permeates most campuses and is expressed by such bubble-surrounded sources as NPR, the New York Times, and the pundits of MSNBC.

It is tempting to attribute this ideological conformity to Politico’s own liberal bias, since no superhuman effort would have been required to find an unorthodox historian or two to break the monotonous repetition on display here such as Stephan Thernstrom or Fred Siegel (whose new book, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, which just received a deservedly positive review in the Wall Street Journal, is directly on the point of this discussion). Sadly, however, Politico’s selection is in fact all too representative of academic history these days.

The particular jewels repeatedly polished here for Obama’s crown are entirely predictable: prominent among them is that he would have been even more successful but for the “fierce blowback from the Republican right” (Douglas Brinkley, Rice); that his presidency evinces a “pattern of good intentions waylaid by a polarized and uncooperative Congress (due particularly to the paralysis of the Republican Party induced by its right-wing ‘Tea Party’ faction)” (Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard); “[h]e will be remembered as a president who, with the best of intentions, tried and failed to end stark, acrimonious polarization in Washington” (Sean Wilentz, Princeton); that despite the fact that Obama  is “a coolly analytic thinker … who resisted easy solutions and was comfortable wrestling with complex problems,” he “could not overcome the deep, bitter and even racist opposition and antipathy that his presidency faced” (Jack Rakove, Stanford).

What these ten historians say with virtually one voice about Obama, however, is much less interesting and much less revealing than what they do not say, i.e., the pack of  dogs that do not bark in their analyses. The words “debt,” “deficit,” and “unemployment,” for example, do not appear in any analysis, and the only references to the most anemic recovery from a recession on record are the praise of Obama from Sean Wilentz (Princeton) for “laying the groundwork for recovery” and from James Kloppenberg (Harvard) that his $800 billion stimulus package “prevented the recession from becoming a depression.”

Remarkably, none of the ten historians displays any hesitation in predicting the future reputation of a president who still has three years left of his term. Jeremy Mayer (George Mason) even sees into the future itself, predicting that “Obama was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Hillary Clinton.” Soothsaying aside, if Afghanistan or Iraq implodes, if we suffer another terrorist attack, the plaudits here for ending those wars (Jack Rakove, Stanford, and James Goldgeier, American) and winding down the “war on terror” (Margaret MacMillan, Oxford, quotes in original) may prove both premature and embarrassing.

Another dog whose bark is inaudible is that not one of these “leading historians” thought it worth mentioning Obama’s extraordinary and unprecedented use of “executive action” not only to amend, revise, and rewrite what he and his supporters were once pleased to call “the law of the land” but even to legislate on his own — far beyond what any previous president has ever done with executive orders — without the inconvenience of having to deal with Congress. If this presidential defiance of Congress stands, Obama will have dramatically increased the power of the presidency, fundamentally changing the relationship between the executive and legislative branches and making the assessment of Beverly Gage (Yale) that “Obama brought few structural changes to American government” not only wrong but risible.

Yet another unbarking dog is the absence of even one mention in these ten paragraphs of what will probably become the most remembered words of the president who rose to power in good part based on his words: “If you like your health insurance…. If you like your doctor….” Unanimously ignoring what is probably the most politically significant lie in American presidential history — certainly more memorable and important than Nixon’s “I am not a crook!” and Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” — is all the more striking because nine of these ten historians  emphasized the centrality of Obamacare to Obama’s legacy (James Goldgeier, American, discussed only foreign policy), as you’ll see on the next page.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
This is insane. This is SO insane I'm trying to decide if it's actually some kind of parody and I'm just missing the punch line.

To say this economy is in recovery is to redefine the word. Employment-wise Obama's best month isn't as good as Bush's worst, and that's without even taking into account the appalling number of people who've simply left the labor market (and therefore, perversely, don't count as unemployed). Obama has single handedly run up more debt than every President before him combined, with hundreds of billions of those dollars simply passed on to his political cronies. His economic stewardship is so horrible he Presided over the historic downgrading of our credit rating.

He's turned the federal government into a Chicago ward machine, using the full power of the executive branch to punish and harass his political opponents, including ordinary citizens trying to participate in the political process. He's deligitimized Federal agencies that, though never exactly loved, were at least thought of non-partisan.

He's done more damage to race relations than a football stadium full of David Dukes ever could.

On foreign policy he hasn't ended wars so much as surrendered them. We're irrelevant in the Middle East and Putin makes a public mockery of us on nearly a weekly basis. On hearing that an embassy was on fire and Americans were being murdered Obama went to bed.

And, of course, Obamacare.

He's "unequivocally" got the country better off now than when he took office? Only the rankest partisan or a complete lunatic could say that with a straight face.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is the problem with official or, in Obama's case, unofficial affirmative action (the media making him look as good as possible because he's black).

People think twice about trusting a black doctor, lawyer, or preidential candidate- not because they think blacks can't be good doctors, lawyers, or presidents, but because they *cannnot tell*, except by bitter experience, if the person involved is actually competent or given a free pass because they're black.

I mean, suppose there were a brand of car where it was made illegal to say anything bad or critical about it in public. For all you know it might be a good car... But you can't tell, so you won't buy it. Why take the chance?

Naturally, the peope who suffer most from this are competent black people - who are assumed to be incompetent, for safety's sake. I'd be angry too if I were black.

I mean, suppose you are the said car's team leader and you did a wonderful job designing a great car - and then some idiot passed a law to "help" you by making it illegal to criticize your car in public. Yeah, thanks a lot, you fool!
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm buying stock in Mary Kay. The Obamacare pig is going to need a hell of a lot of lipstick.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (81)
All Comments   (81)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Historians? No. Call them by the correct name: "Fluffers".
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are two book titles that sum up the reign of Obama. "The Illusion of the Epoch", and "The God That Failed". There is yet another possibility, "La Trahison des Clerc". Yet another, "None Dare Call It Treason". One could go on and on, listing most telling titles.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I haven't heard Stormers book referenced since my Americanism versus Communism class in 1969. BTW the course was required for graduation by legislative act in Florida. Our other text was Masters of Deceit. (Not sure ol' Barry was even born then.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama has paved the way for an Islamic America. That is his true legacy.

Let us hope the next President reverses the process before it is too late.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The islamic takeover in Europe, which resulted in the Crusades to free the people, was instituted against an unarmed population. It isn't quite the same these days. However, we should try voting out the bums like obama and his associates before getting down to basics.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Left-wing Politico hand picks ten historians that have already written and said nice things about Obama (that are completely untrue) and they’re asked to repeat it and add to the body of propaganda. What a surprise.

But there’s a political party that needs to be saved and anything helps.

History as written by people who do not also moonlight as comedians will not be kind to Obama.

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
What these historians are all saying is that Obama is an utter failure, but it's the Republicans' fault.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Cooly analytical." IOW "I'll sit here and ponder where my next vacation will be and people will think that I'm giving deep thought to stuff."
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The idea that a historian is actually qualified to pronounce a judgment on the enormously complex events that make up current events and history is ridiculous.

Even with events long in the past, a historian is not qualified to pontificate on what errors the confederate generals made at Gettysburg without referring to analysis by a military scientist or strategist, cannot pronounce on the causes and remedies of the Great Depression without seeking the opinions of experts in economics and finance.

Historians are record-keepers. If you are looking for wise judgments on the merits of the Obama administration, you might as well ask your garbage man or your pool boy.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Right. The thing that should most preoccupy Americans is the community organizer's "legacy".

As he informed John McCain early on in 2009 while pretending to solicit republicans' ideas on Obamacare..."The election's over, John. You lost."

Everything relevant to that guy's "legacy" is inherent in that statement.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
He will be remembered as the President who played golf while Iran went nuclear.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm just hoping he doesn't get remembered as the President who played golf after Iran nuked somebody (like Israel). It's certainly not hard to imagine him giving Iran a pass if they actually use a nuke.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is amazing how blinded by partisanship they are and how much projection of their hopes and dreams and wishes is involved in these "assessments" of Obama. Seriously, what you get from them is that Obama is not just great, but really great, and would even be really really really great if it were not for those pesky republicans who obstruct him and prevent even greater greatness.

What is left unsaid in this commentary is that it is precisely because the American people disagreed with the lurch to the left once Obama started governing that there is a small government conservative group commonly referred to as the "tea party". His wonderfulness led to a revolt against his wonderful policies. He must be wonderful then, right?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 5 Next View All