This has been a good week for George W. Bush. The opening of his presidential library and museum at Southern Methodist University has led to a widespread reassessment of his administration’s record. Indeed, public-opinion polls show that Bush now has a 47 percent approval rating, up from the dismal 33 percent when he left office, and the same that President Obama now has.
The positive view, even the nice words about Bush spoken by President Obama at the dedication ceremony of the Bush Library, has not rubbed off on historians. History News Network — the leading website for academic historians — proclaims, “Historians Still Despise George W. Bush.”
Their judgment of Bush’s reign in office has little to do with a nuanced assessment of his presidency; rather, it has to do with their desire to show that they are leftists first and historians second.
The point was well-argued by historian Stephen F. Knott of the Naval War College in last Sunday’s Washington Post. As Knott writes, few historians are having second thoughts about the Bush presidency not because of actual facts or assessment of policy successes or failures, but because “far too many scholars revealed partisan bias and abandoned any pretense of objectivity in their rush to condemn the Bush presidency.”
Knott cites two of the most prominent attacks made against Bush while he was in the White House, the first by Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, and the second by Columbia University’s Eric Foner, a man far to the left of Wilentz. Both were bested in their attacks — vicious and unbalanced as they were — by TV’s most well-known “presidential historian” (whatever that is), Doug Brinkley, who wrote in 2006 that “it’s safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder” and that Bush purposely tried to “brutalize his opponents.”
It is hard to realize, now that so many journalists who at the time hated Bush are now reevaluating their own biases, that the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. — always a partisan of the democratic left of the Democratic Party — actually wrote (as Knott writes) that “the Bush administration was purposefully ‘driv[ing] toward domination of the world,’ placing the constitutional system of separation of powers ‘under unprecedented, and at times, unbearable strain,’ and was intent on ‘outlawing debate.’”