Obama’s historical reputation will be whatever these historians, and others like them, say it is.
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The problem with fixing the historical reputation of presidents — in both meanings of “fix”: securing in place and repairing — is that it is done by historians. That problem is manifest in Politico’s recent invitation to “ten leading historians” to write a paragraph on “Obama’s rank in the pantheon of American presidents.”
If journalists write the first draft of history, one of the striking things about this collection is how little any of the ten historians revise in any way the conventional wisdom that permeates most campuses and is expressed by such bubble-surrounded sources as NPR, the New York Times, and the pundits of MSNBC.
It is tempting to attribute this ideological conformity to Politico’s own liberal bias, since no superhuman effort would have been required to find an unorthodox historian or two to break the monotonous repetition on display here such as Stephan Thernstrom or Fred Siegel (whose new book, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, which just received a deservedly positive review in the Wall Street Journal, is directly on the point of this discussion). Sadly, however, Politico’s selection is in fact all too representative of academic history these days.