Ed Driscoll

Where's Zhou Enlai When You Need Him?

“George W. Bush is victim of a rush to judgment,” Stephen F. Knott of the U.S. Naval War College and author of the 2012 book Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, writes in the Washington Post:

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be dedicated Thursday at Southern Methodist University, an event that will draw all of the nation’s living presidents to Dallas. Despite the coming fanfare, many Americans consider Bush’s presidency a failure.There is little evidence that scholars, including the influential historians who pronounce the success or failure of an administration, are having second thoughts about their assessment of Bush as a failed chief executive. Unfortunately, far too many scholars revealed partisan bias and abandoned any pretense of objectivity in their rush to condemn the Bush presidency.

Many academics branded Bush a failure long before his presidency ended — and not just fringe elements of the academy, such as Ward Churchill or Howard Zinn, but also scholars from the nation’s most prestigious universities. In April 2006, Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz published an essay in Rolling Stone titled “The Worst President in History?” Wilentz argued that “George W. Bush’s presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace” in part because he had “demonized the Democrats,” hurting the nation’s ability to wage war. No other U.S. president “failed to embrace the opposing political party” in wartime, Wilentz claimed, despite numerous examples to the contrary, such as when Franklin D. Roosevelt compared his Republican opponents to fascists in 1944.

Far from failing to embrace the opposing political party, GWB was carrying out their earlier requests:

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And as another infamous rightwing neocon Rethuglican deathbeast said in 1992:

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Of course, Bush was the victim of the ultimate rush to judgement, given that for many on the professional left, as Daniel Henninger has written, the most intense day of their political lives at the dawn of the 21st century wasn’t 9/11, but a year earlier, when Al Gore lost the recall election to GWB. Recall how this reader of the far left magazine The Nation poisoned the well that day:

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But I’m glad to see the Post providing space to explore the concept that they misjudged GWB, especially after they spent last month rehabilitating the reputation of one of his GOP predecessors, at the expense of one their own.

Related: In 2006 Neo-Neocon asked, “Instant historians: an oxymoron?”

I always thought historians were those who wrote about the past after the passage of a reasonable amount of time, and journalists and pundits were–well, there’s a lot of things I could call them, but we’ll stick with “chroniclers of the present, taking a snapshot in time.” Historians are distinguished by waiting, reflection, research, and analyzing the long-term consequences of actions taken. Not with predicting those consequences, but actually studying them, because they have occurred.

That’s not to say that history is infallible; surely not. I’ve written before about some of the problems inherent in writing history, especially history with an agenda–and everyone’s got an agenda, whether upfront about it or not.

Churchill is an interesting case in point. After the WWI debacle of his Admiralty decisions concerning the Dardanelles and Gallipoli (see this as well), the judgment of history would have been “Stupidity. Failure. Poor judgment.” During the thirties, Churchill was practically a laughingstock in Parliament, a man whose dire warnings about Hitler and Germany were widely considered almost demented and rather pathetic.

By people who were rather demented and pathetic themselves.

(Here’s the decoder ring for the headline, in case anyone needs it.)