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Friday, April 11, 2008

HNN Poll part II

Some other blogs have had interesting things to say about the HNN Poll on the George W. Bush Presidency and its historic legacy.

Larry Dewitt. Follies of Instant History: 4/7/2008

Interesting in his assessment of the actual comments made by historians: i.e. there is not a lot of history going on or valid historical comparisons being made. I am heartened to see that HNN gave a dissenting voice space on the front page, although it would have been better still if they had given it equal billing with the original survey.

Less interesting is Dewitt’s argument about how all this relates to a “postmodern residue” in the profession. First, what is a postmodern residue? It sounds like that white film left on your clothes after using a deodorant antiperspirant with a one-word two-syllable name like “degree” or “secret”…

Second, why does a discussion about the applicability of historical analysis to contemporary events have to involve the “objectivity question”? The only people exercised about the “objectivity question” are middle-aged white men who still practice presidential history. They clearly haven’t gotten the word: the war between the history profession and postmodernism is over. History won back in the 1990s. You can go back to doddering around the Truman archives without fear of being shived by Jacques Derrida in the men’s room.

Ari Kelman. Edge of the American West: 4/08/2008

The Edge of the American West is one of the best history blogs washing around the tubes on the Internets. Ari and Erich do a bang up job of using historical events to give insight into contemporary American life. They have several posts that have asked sophisticated questions about the role of historical comparison when assessing U.S. Presidents, past and present.

My one critique of their posts, however, is applicable to the original HNN Poll as well. The assessment has been strictly done from an American historical perspective. Aside from gripes about the Iraq War, I do not think anyone has seriously looked at the effects of American foreign policy on the rest of the world when weighing the relative merits of various presidents.

If the impact of a President’s foreign policy on the world at large were measured, then the rankings would be very different. The legacy of someone like FDR would probably remain the same, because defeating Nazi Germany and militarist Japan was undoubtedly a great good. But other presidents like Bill Clinton and Woodrow Wilson would have to be judged much more harshly. This would also require historians to be less flip about their assessments of George W. Bush. It should be obvious that his policies are the logical conclusion of several trends in American foreign policy that date back to McKinley, Wilson and more recently Reagan and Clinton.

Sara K Smith. Wonkette: 4/8/2008

Wonkette deals with the HNN poll a humorous and offhand manner commensurate with the silliness inherent to the subject matter. Who knew Doris Kearns Goodwin was such a potty mouth? Bad historians… no biscuit…

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