Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Histrionic Historians Hate Herbert's Heir

The History News Network has reported the findings of an "unscientific poll" of "professional historians" to conclude that George W. Bush is the worst president ever. Now I know that W isn't troubled. Unlike some presidents (or candidates) he's never taken his marching orders from opinion polls (unscientific or otherwise). Word on the street is he gets his orders from either Ole' Scratch hisself or the military industrial cabal.

Anyway, there're plenty of good reasons not to even report this "fact finding mission" not the least of which are as follows:
  1. Academia is glutted with post-hippie anti-war PhDs...people who kept re-upping their matriculation to avoid working and or war. It's not that I'm for war - especially not this war. However, it's important to keep in view that the most formative years of many of these folk's lives were spent in protesting Vietnam and Bush just gets their vinegar in a tussle in ways that other presidents have. (PS, it's not about deaths of American soldiers since nearly as many died under Clinton - during "peacetime"!)
  2. Academia has long had a left-leaning bias, especially in the humanities and social sciences. One national survey of more than 1,000 profs shows that Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least 7 to 1 in the social sciences and humanities. (Aren't these the guys that whine incessantly about underrepresentation in important sectors of life? What - it's okay to look different, so long as we all think alike?)
  3. Most importantly: this isn't the work of historians. Historians have to have the passage of time in order to see how certain policies worked themselves out in the political and economic and social ramifications. That takes time - something that they don't have yet. Give us twenty or thirty years and then ask the question.*
If I want a prognosticator, I'll talk to a political scientist or my stock broker. If I want history, I'll have to look backwards. Unfortunately, the judgment of history isn't likely to be available to us for at least 25 years.

* I take the same issue with those who laud Reagan as the greatest president of all time. While he was truly great and enjoyed enormous bi-partisan popularity, I still don't think enough time has passed for us to see him in comparison to other universally-acknowledged "greats".



Red_Cleric said...

Let's do some checking of statements. Re: the number of military deaths reported in Facts Check compare that with http://www.snopes.com/politics/military/deaths.asp Snopes.com


Chris said...


You'll notice that I did not repeat the false conclusions of the email rounding the conservative inboxes. When I got that, I researched it immediately and found it to be false. However, I was stunned that there was only approximately 1,000 death difference between the two president's terms. I wish there were none...but in comparing peace-time deaths to wartime deaths, it is pretty stunning. I'll admit I'm not one hundred percent sure what to make of it, though.

Anonymous said...

Cradle Calvinist must be stuck in the senility of his old age. He still can't remember my password.

That being said, Chris had to have known I'd chime in on this one. I'm a history major, as are 4 others in my family (and two of them PhD's).

Historiography is a cyclical thing. As I said on a numismatic forum of which I'm a member, it's best to wait 60 or so years (until the person/event/etc. leaves modern memory) to begin offering objective historic evaluations. Otherwise, the personal investment held by the people who lived through it will skewer the results.

Doug Hagler said...

"Reality has a well-documented liberal bias." -Stephen Colbert

But seriously, folks, at least these "post-hippie" PhDs (as if being post-hippie had anything to do with the quality of your academic work) had the honesty to stay in academia, rather than, say, signing up for the national guard and then not showing up to serve. I see nothing unreasonable about not wanting to go around the world and kill people. Run to Canada! Stay in school! Ideally, they'd all be conscientious objectors, but that takes a lot of courage, so you can't really expect it from everyone. Heck, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to go to prison for my convictions. Hopefully, I'll never have to find out.

You're right, this isn't really the work of historians. But it sure is funny. And I'm not so sure history will be kind to W. If anything, as documents are de-classified (he does love classifying everything, doesn't he?) he'll just look worse and worse.

Also, though only 1,000 fewer service-persons died under Clinton, a lot fewer Iraqis died. And for me, that's part of the point. I'm not just counting the Americans, you know? Ideally, we wouldn't murder people at all, but I realize that's a pipe-dream as long as we pretend that killing is good.

If the only horrific thing W did was the war in Iraq...what a delightful reality that would be. I wish I lived there.

Chris said...

Check your sources, Dan Rather.

As far as Iraqi casualties...I don't think either of us has a real grip on how many there are. Estimates vary too wildly - and are too politically doctored. But it seems that balance requires that we recall under Clinton, the death of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda ranged from 550,000 to 1,000,000.

What we can tell, however, is that a substantial number of those deaths are due to insurgency (and counter-insurgency) and crime. The fact that the surge of US troops has drastically reduced the violence is a strong argument that whatever the problems of entering the war, we must stay for the time being. Max Boot has done excellent analysis on the issue of leaving and why now would be bad for everyone involved (except, possibly, for short-term presidential aspirants).

Anonymous said...

What, Chris, you mean that Liberal, Commie-lovin', Ivory Tower professors hate Bush??

Who'd a' thunk it?

(I am an interminable smart-off aren't I...)

Craig said...


I would also think that to accurately compare the number of deaths you would need to inlclude the number of deaths of Iraquis and others caused by Saddam and his regime.

Tim said...

The next thing you know, you'll be insisting it's too soon to conclude that Jimmy Carter is the greatest president of all time...

Chris said...

I'm willing to admit that he's the best Southern Baptist President in living memory. ;)

Anonymous said...

Cradle Calvinist here (maybe I'll re-register under a new name)

There are two nominally Southern Baptist Presidents still living. Neither was good, but I wouldn't say Jimmy was better. And I believe John McCain, although raised Episcopalian, is now a Baptist, although I don't know his particular brand of Baptism.

Chris said...

McCain aint president yet.

Bill Crawford said...

History will be kind to Bush in terms of several issues:

Judges - no president in recent history got the judges he meant to have who followed through on the issues he meant to affect. Not even Reagan did so well you would have to go back to Roosevelt to find better and some are still bitter about his record.

No further attacks on US soil. Inconcevable to believe on 9/12/2001 now a certain fact.

For the most part a solid economy despite incredible obstacles - the jurry is still out on this year but a little recession is inavoidable.

Reagan was in more trouble in his last year than Bush by a mile.

Will something incredibly damaging come out some time in the future? Maybe but if Bill Clinton survives that experience I suspect George Bush will.

Jodie said...

Minister and would be ministers should really stay out of politics, math, and economics.

Is the solid economy why New Orleans was so beautifully rebuilt after Katrina. Or was it due to Bush's unequaled leadership? Didn't I see Bush make a speech in front of the Cafe du Mond about how he was going to rebuild everything? Hows that going? Strong economy and exceptional leadership, huh? Three billion dollars a week he spends in Iraq. Think about what that kind of money represents.

(But when rich white republicans in San Diego needed help to rebuild their McMansions after devastating brush fires he was there for them)

How about the number of attacks on American soil before 9/11? Do you really think the world was different the day after than what it was the day before? What prevented attacks before that day? The only thing that has changed is our own willingness to do unto others before we get done unto - another Bush legacy.

Did any of you bother to look up the size of the American military in those years in question? The armed forces under Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr was more than twice the size it is now under Bush. When normalized to fraction of members in active duty, the numbers under Bush are running four times over what they were under Clinton. Three quarters of it is combat related.

Ten times that many are getting permanent life changing injuries, many of them brain injuries.

With a disproportionate number of them from Louisiana and Mississippi.

Iraqi casualties have been measured and published by refereed statistical journals. The kill ratio is better than 20 to 1. It has to be in order to prevent a massacre of American troops who are outnumbered by at least the same amount.

Did you forget the numbers in Somalia? The current American army is a mean lean killing machine. The world has never seen anything like it. But it is not big.

Seriously folks. Get your facts straight. Talk about things you know something about.

Chris said...


You said: "Minister and would be ministers should really stay out of politics, math, and economics."

Is John Shuck aware of your policy? Or do you just apply this to people with whom you disagree?

Anonymous said...

my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.