The call of history

June 10, 2008

History always has the last word:

White House aides say Bush, who majored in history at Yale, likes to emphasize historical comparisons because they are easy for the public to understand and illustrate in dramatic fashion how differently future generations may come to view him.

Unfortunately for the president, many historians have already reached a conclusion. In an informal survey of scholars this spring, just two out of 109 historians said Bush would be judged a success; a majority deemed him the “worst president ever.”

“It’s all he has left,” said Millsaps College history professor Robert S. McElvaine, who conducted the survey for the History News Network of George Mason University. “When your approval ratings are down around 20 to 28 percent and the candidate of your own party is trying to hide from being seen with you, history is your only hope.”

We’re far too close to the last eight years to say what history will say about George Bush. It all depends on how the things he set in motion will play out, and we don’t know that yet. Those 109 historians aren’t acting as true historians, judging the past with the benefit of hindsight and perspective. They’re jumping into the journalists’ arena, commenting on the first draft of history.

History rehabilitated Harry Truman’s image, but it hasn’t been very kind to Richard Nixon’s. I suspect Bush’s treatment will fall somewhere in between. He won’t be in the top half of presidents and probably not even in the top two-thirds, but the worst ever? Don’t think so.


8 Responses to “The call of history”

  1. Bob G. Says:

    I’d say GW has Carter beat by several country miles…and Bush never got stuck in HIS bathtub (like Taft).



  2. Harl Delos Says:

    Bush never got stuck in HIS bathtub

    A shame, that. If he had been, he might have done less damage.

  3. Nance Says:

    Keep hope alive, Leo. There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere.

  4. MichaelK Says:

    No, instead of getting stuck in a bathtub he fell off a Segway and choked on snack food, right?

  5. Leo Morris Says:

    Bush is dead, Nance; you can quit beating that particular horse. But, to elaborate: I suspect that the thing I most dislike Bush for — the increase of government’s scope and cost under his stupid “compassionate conservatism” — will be overlooked by history. His eight-year domestic record will just blend in with the overall story of gradual government expansion over the last 150 years. I suggest the thing you most hate him for — the war — is the one thing we are least able to judge because of today’s passions and prejudices. Wars change paths and options in unpredictable ways, and blame and credit gets parceled out in surprising ways sometimes. I don’t hope history says one thing or another about Bush. It will say what it will say.

  6. tim zank Says:

    Gee, not to be contrary but,

    The opinions of the 109 “historians” about how future generations will grade current events as history are just that, opinions, and of course opinions are remarkably similar to spincters, in that every a**&ol% has one.

    Opinions are based upon current events, feelings, likes and dislikes. History is based upon actual events (facts) over a long period of time.

  7. Harl Delos Says:

    History is based upon actual events (facts) over a long period of time.

    Interesting post, Tim, and other than for a spelling quibble, I’d agree with everything but the last sentence. Maybe I agree with it, too, but it confuses me a little.

    Could you elaborate on this? At what point in time does history start? How is it that we suddenly know the facts, when they were not available easier? What causes people to stop having opinions?

    One of the local TV stations here runs their evening news at 10 PM, and the others have theirs at 11 PM. They run promos that say “At 10, it’s news, at 11, it’s history”. I guess the other stations should be advertising “At 10, it’s opinion, at 11, it’s facts,” huh?

    Bush is dead, Nance

    OMG, Cheney is running things now? Sounds like a good time to buy stock in Halliburton!

  8. Leo Morris Says:

    History, I think, starts roughly where “collectibles” meet “antiques.”

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