Glenn Beck: “Historian” For a Troubled America





Mr. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

Update: Glenn Beck has responded to this article on his TV show. You can see the clip on YouTube here. Mr. Palermo's response to Mr. Beck can be found here.

It’s official: Beck is now a doctor of philosophy. The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University recently conferred upon Glenn Beck an honorary doctorate in the humanities. Liberty University’s honoring of Beck is fitting because he has clearly established himself as Fox News’s resident “historian,” with his area of expertise being American civilization, with emphases on the early republic, progressivism, and the New Deal. Glenn Beck, Ph.D. makes about $1 million a month, earning him the distinction of being the highest paid “historian” in the world.

Beck has emerged as the most influential promoter of the Jonah Goldberg/Amity Shlaes contention that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal were unmitigated “calamities” for the country. Almost nightly, Beck tells his several million viewers that FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and other “progressives” (even TR) were engaged in a long-term project to strip Americans of their freedom and impose some kind of totalitarian state. Historians who specialize in the early twentieth century probably could never have dreamt that a TV and radio personality could convince so many ordinary Americans that laws that ensure the safety of meat and drugs, minimum wages, expanding voting rights, etc. undermine their “freedom.”

Beck, Goldberg, Shlaes and others seem to be pursuing a long-term project of their own to misinform their rather gullible audiences into believing that anytime a government imposes limits on the ability of private business (especially giant corporations) to exploit the country’s land and labor it is an attack on individual “liberty.” It’s the same argument that representatives of corporate trusts deployed at the turn of the last century when they demanded the “freedom” to do anything they wished. In the wake of the Wall Street financial meltdown and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill catastrophe, both brought to us by the less than benevolent actions of unrestrained corporate power, Beck’s views are not only stupid and false, but dangerous.

But one of Dr. Beck’s main pet peeves is his belief that the “founders” intended the United States to be a Christian nation and that the idea of a “wall of separation” between church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberal elites. It’s not that Beck is wrong about the ambiguity of the personal beliefs on the subject by the founders, but he and others like him are monumentally wrong by overstating the relevance of the intent of eighteenth century views on the thought and practices of twentieth and twenty-first century America.

Gordon S. Wood, in a June 2006 edition of The New York Review of Books, writes: “We can’t solve our current disputes over religion by looking back to the actual historical circumstances of the Founding [sic]; those circumstances are too complex, too confusing, and too biased toward Protestant Christianity to be used in courts today, and most of them are remote from or antagonistic to the particular needs of the twenty-first century. We do not, and cannot, base American constitutional jurisprudence on the historical reality of the Founding [sic]. . . . What Founders’ [sic] intent should we choose to emphasize? That of the deistic Jefferson and Madison? Or that of the churchgoing Washington and Adams, with their sympathies for religion? Or that of the countless numbers of evangelical Protestants who captured control of the culture to an extent most of the Founding [sic] elite never anticipated?”

In the modern era the Supreme Court had little choice but to build on the idea of a “wall” between church and state, not because the learned men at the dawn of the Enlightenment had expressed their own contradictory views on the subject, but because of the social pressures and prerogatives of the contemporary period the justices themselves were living through. The United States Constitution is a “living document,” no matter how often Beck and others repeat the lie that it isn’t.

Beck, in all his disquisitions about the founders’ intent and the church/state divide, never mentions the social and political context of eighteenth century America that informs his interpretation. He never engages his esteemed colleagues among academic historians, preferring instead to dismiss the whole profession as part of the liberal-Democratic-progressive elite that is trying to impose its godless agenda.

And this brings me to the most fascinating aspect of Glenn Beck: Beck as Historian. To explain his novel historical theories to his viewers Beck assumes the affect of a university professor. When Beck sports a tweed blazer and rests his spectacles on the tip of his nose, eyes peering over his glasses, he’s impersonating the archetype of a professor that is widely familiar in the culture from movies and TV (if not from actual colleges and universities). Even in the era of erasable markers and PowerPoint he uses a chalkboard for heuristic purposes. The semiotician in me sees the chalkboard as far more than a mere stage prop. Given that Fox News has access to the most sophisticated and blaring computer graphics to drive home its political points, Beck’s use of the chalkboard is remarkably low-tech (even inside a very high-tech television studio). He’s the only TV personality who uses one. The chalkboard signifies scholarship and learning. His studio is transformed into a classroom and his audience becomes a class full of eager students. Beck becomes a professor—specifically, a history professor. Covered in chalk dust and ruffling through his lecture notes, Beck exudes a certain power that derives from the timeless teacher/student relationship even though he and his producers are deploying this demeanor as nothing more than a pseudo-educational propaganda tool. Writing in Time recently, Beck’s ideological soul mate Sarah Palin praised him for exactly this type of professorial playacting. I suppose we should be flattered that even Fox News recognizes the symbolic influence of our profession.

In The Use and Abuse of History, Frederick Nietzsche famously identified three kinds of history: the monumental, the antiquarian, and the critical. Beck does a little bit of each, but he is truly a practitioner of the monumental variety. “Monumental history lives by false analogy,” Nietzsche writes. “It entices the brave to rashness, and the enthusiastic to fanaticism by its tempting comparisons. Imagine this history in the hands—and the head—of a gifted egoist or an inspired scoundrel; kingdoms would be overthrown, princes murdered, war and revolution let loose, and the number of ‘effects in themselves’ —in other words, effects without sufficient cause—increased.” (p. 16)

The wide dissemination of Beck’s views wouldn’t matter much if the United States were in better shape today. But the status quo that is emerging cannot help but create a highly volatile electorate for years to come. Class lines are hardening, mobility is stifled, unemployment will remain near double digits for many years, there is a sea of angry voters who are susceptible to jingoistic appeals and conspiracy theories (like the ones Beck promotes). The ongoing fiscal crisis at the local, state, and federal levels has led to the heartless rollback of public institutions at exactly the time when they are needed the most. And it is in this dreary context where Beck each night on television twists the meaning of the terms “empathy,” “progress,” and “social justice” into buzzwords deployed by those who want to turn the United States into a Nazi/Communist/Socialist/Totalitarian State. No wonder he has become the Joan D’Arc of the Tea Party movement.

It’s fascinating that in an era where far-right ideologues like David Horowitz and affiliated organizations like “Accuracy in Academia” constantly scream about how terrible academia is and how “tenured radicals” have usurped the once noble purpose of the university still drift toward creating a fake scholarly environment for their propaganda. Like the recent Texas School Board decision to purge textbooks of ideological impurities, and Jonah Goldberg writing a “book” with all the trappings of footnotes and sources, or Liberty University conferring an honorary doctorate on Beck, Beck’s shtick is a backhanded nod to the relevance of history as a discipline and to historians not only as educators, but also as the keepers of the nation’s myths. We historians have more power in the culture than we often give ourselves credit for.

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John Connally - 6/4/2010

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/06/04/the_university_guild_vs_glenn_beck.html


James Lee Winningham - 6/3/2010

I find it interesting that you and other Beck followers always accuse progressives of "hiding" history. For example, Beck promoted an entire program on his show to the untold history that progressive hide. I tuned in and the entire show was about the atrocities committed under Stalin and Hilter (and other dictators). You tell me one historian that hides these things and I will concede the argument. You can tune into the history channel and go to any bookstore and find histories written about these things.

You are not seeing substance because you don't want to see substance.

You said this, "It is always the same lies with the progressives. Always. 1.)GB makes too much money. 2.)The issues are too complicated for the stupid massses. 3.)The anti-christian theme and finally the Big Tell; 4.)He misinforms his helpless viewers but the critics never ever have corroborating facts to back it up."

One, the article was not criticizing Beck making money, merely pointing it out. Second, these historical issues are too complicated for the ignorant masses. I do not say that in a mean way, but lets face it, most Americans don't study history nor care about it. Many that do have a very simplistic view of it whether they are liberal or conservative. I know this because I teach college freshmen every semester and most of them don't know a thing about history because knowledge of it is not stressed in our society anymore. Third, merely pointing out the complex religious views of the founders and how that differs from Glenn Beck's simplistic history is not anti-Christian. Fourth, if you think Mr. Palermo has not backed up his assertions then you need to read the article closer.


Maarja Krusten - 6/3/2010

Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Bernstein.

I think those of us who work in the civil service with archival and historical duties develop a certain type of ethos or at least become accustomed to seeing people around us with that ethos. I was just looking at a job vacancy announcement this evening for a Senior Executive Service Supervisory Archivist position with the FBI. I would be eligible to apply but am not going to do so because I have 37 years federal service and plan to finish out my career where I am now.

Nevertheless, in looking at
http://bit.ly/dmvYet
I was struck by two of the listed qualifiactions:

4. Problem Solving: The ability to critically evaluate conditions, events, and alternatives; to identify problems, causes and relationships; to base decisions or recommendations on data or sound reasoning; and to formulate objective opinions; the ability to make effective decisions without undue hesitance, to defend/justify decisions when challenged; to accept responsibility for decisions made.

5. Interpersonal Relations: To establish and maintain rapport with others; to treat others with respect and courtesy; to manage/resolve conflicts and disagreements; to develop/maintain give-and-take relationships; to use both formal and informal channels to accomplish objectives; to encourage participation; to understand the needs, concerns, and perspectives of others; to contribute to group goals and objectives; to build consensus.

Notice the one about understanding the needs, concerns, and perspectives of others. Obviously, saying "I'm right, you're wrong, that's the end of it" wouldn't work in a workplace culture, such as that of the FBI, where only a handful of people have advanced degrees in history or in archival studies. In federal service, one really does become accustomed to thinking about various perspectives and how differently others may view situations, among the other requirements listed there. Or at least I have in my work with the Nixon materials and with my other assignments over the years.

One also does learn to detach oneself to some degree. While I worked with the Nixon materials, no one outside my work cohort knew that I had voted for and supported Nixon. It just never showed up in my work, which was to determine what data was releasable under the Nixon records statute and its implementing regulations, period. We were working to release material to the American people, regardless of where they stood and how they viewed Nixon. The public trust demanded that I have no personal vested interest in the outcome of our screening of the tapes and files, and I did not. It's just a very different way of doing things. I was 25 and still in grad school when I joined the staff of the National Archives, young enough to be strongly influenced (imprinted?) by its culture and ethos of ojectivity.

Thanks again, I enjoyed chatting with you here.


Lewis Bernstein - 6/2/2010

I, too, represent no one's opinions but my own. I, too, am an historian (complete with Ph.D.); I taught at universities for many years and now work for the Federal government, the Department of Defense, overseas.

I admire your ability to stand back and take the intellectual view you present. Yes, Vietnam and its effects (Watergate was only one) have shaken American self-confidence. There is a great deal of free floating animosity out there and people would rather believe in cartoons and have their egos stroked and be told that they are all bien pensants, thinking what they are supposed to be thinking. Hence, I think the charms of Limbaugh and Beck and the animosity that greets all who have not drunk the Kool Aid.

I agree, history is not linear and one of the effects of the prosperity of the 1950s and the 1960s along with the after effects of the so-called New Left and the Civil Rights movement was a re-exploration of American history. New sources were used and new questions asked of old sources. The answers that emerged do not suit people like many on the Texas Board of Education. They are unpleasant and do not necessarily deal with heroes and villains, or perhaps the heroes and villains have changed. When Pauline Maier or Elkins and McKittrick or Gordon Wood or Jack Rakove acquaint us with three dimensional historical characters, those of weak intellect run away and take refuge in the quiet dogmas of the past.
Of course as an historian of China I am not fully up to date in US historiography but as I say to my colleagues when queried about NE Asia, "I know a little," or more accurately I know what I do not know, which as The Master tells us, is the basis of true knowledge.


Maarja Krusten - 6/2/2010

Mr. Bernstein, I can't speak for anyone but myself but here's my take on why questions related to history and historiography have become muddled in the U.S. I’m replying at length -- my post is as long as Dr. Palermo's article itself -- because my background as an historian is quite different from that of most of the scholars who post here. I'm an historian but not a part of the academy, my work all has been in the public sector.

For 14 years, I was an employee of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It was my job as a federal employee to listen to the largely secret Nixon White House tapes to see what could be released to the public and what required restriction for national security, law enforcement information, grand jury material, personal privacy, etc. I specialized in written and oral information about “abuses of governmental power.” As it happens, I had voted for Nixon (I cast my first vote for him as a college student in 1972). I considered myself a Republican for many years, although I’ve been an Independent since 1989.

In my view, Vietnam and Watergate had a great impact on the U.S. and on how people viewed the government, historians, and history. I happen to believe that a President has many stewardship obligations, including key ones related to political sustainability. Stewardship requires not just the obvious, such as trying to govern well, to the extent any man can. (There is much that is beyond anyone’s control, all administrations are buffeted by unforeseen foreign and domestic events. And as Gen. Anthony Zinni has said, sometimes leaders are faced with choosing among the best of really bad options, with no good ones in sight. Historians haven’t done a very good job in conveying that, in my view.) It also requires acting in ways that does not harm one’s political party.

The chief executive has to set the right tone at the top. That Nixon failed to do. That the U.S. was fighting a war in Vietnam—a war many young people did not see as worth risking their lives for—did not provide an excuse. Precedents matter. So does ethical corrosion. It’s one thing to rely on purely political operatives to perform what then was called “dirty tricks.” That was the norm in Nixon’s day, the political world largely is unregulated. Not so the federa. Nixon went beyond that, getting into what his Attorney General famously referred to as “the White House horrors.” And that is where he hurt himself and his party. Nixon admitted after leaving office that “I gave my enemies a sword.” Nixon erred in misusing the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to harass political opponents. And in asking a subordinate to count Jewish employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and to try to find ways to replace them with non-Jews. And in looking for ways to use the Secret Service to spy on a prominent political opponent.

Some of those efforts involved not so-called political appointees serving at the pleasure of the President, but people in the civil service. A bedrock principle (and the underlying reason for the U.S. Hatch Act that prohibits certain actions) is that civil servants view the American people *as a whole* as their beneficiary client. How civil servants voted does not matter, nor are they supposed to take that into account in doing their work. Nor, as the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility reported in 2007 or 2008, is it supposed to affect hiring.

Be that as it may, Nixon, a very intelligent man with great vision, fell victim to dark impulses and resentments that he could have avoided. As he later recognized, he let down a lot of people who had voted for him. Nixon resigned in 1974, Saigon fell in 1975. Those events have roiled U.S. history, historians, and readers ever since. They have shown up in elections, in the so called “culture wars,” and in how people look at history. There are people who look for someone to blame. “They” did this to “us.” The stab in the back theory. The forcing out of office of a President who didn’t deserve it. Or on the other side, the painting of Nixon as a cartoonish villain, with no ability to credit him for what he did well or to recognize what the members of the Silent Majority yearned and hoped for from his leadership. (I read many letters from ordinary citizens during my tenure at the National Archives.)

As the historian Herbert Butterfield pointed out in 1931, the Whig interpretation of history does not always fit. Things aren’t always linear and up-trending and triumphal and interrupted only by irregularities because “someone” brought down “your guy” undeservedly. That may be a comforting narrative but reality often is much, much more complicated. History zigs and zags, people struggle because we all are human. So, yes, there are students of history who say issues were complex in the early 1970s, the nation faced many challenges during the Nixon years, but that Nixon could have avoided his downfall. I fall into this latter camp, although I once was a member of Nixon’s “Silent Majority.” I believe in accountability, in personal responsibility, in manning up. And in stewardship and an understanding of political capital.

I find that although many historians have examined that time period, few have had the ability to step back and say, “how am I coming across? What filters are readers applying to my work? Why do they look at things as they do? Am I missing something?” Yes, they should go where the data takes them, not where it is “safe” and “popular.” But they also need to be aware of the fact that they are representatives of a profession that few members of the public work in themselves. They need to reach out to the public and to explain why comforting narratives filled with heroes and villains don’t always work, however much some people on the right or left may yearn for them. They need to think about metamessages as well as messages. To understand what Watergate and Vietnam did to people across the political spectrum. And the impact of few people being willing to stand up and to confront it rather than playing the same blame games over and over. By and large, that type of intellectual curiosity and self awareness that is necessary to understand the profession’s image has been lacking among scholars, even in the Internet age.

With all this complicated baggage all around, it’s no wonder things get complicated.


Joseph Palermo - 6/1/2010

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/glenn-beck/statements/byruling/false/


Joseph Palermo - 6/1/2010

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/glenn-beck/statements/byruling/pants-fire/


Joseph Palermo - 6/1/2010

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/glenn-beck/statements/byruling/pants-fire/


Joseph Palermo - 6/1/2010

The author quotes Gordon S. Wood for a reason -- if people want to side with Glenn Beck over Gordon Wood, it's their choice.


John Connally - 6/1/2010

"I don't live in the States and as a consequence have very little first hand knowledge of Glenn Beck," but I'm going to type in some asinine comment anyway.


John Connally - 6/1/2010

Very well put, Mr. Huettner.


Lewis Bernstein - 6/1/2010

With the exception of Ms Krusten's post I find the material inexplicable. I don't live in the States and as a consequence have very little first hand knowledge of Glenn Beck. From what I have seen on You Tube he appears to be just another blatherskite and mountebank. BTW, I do agree with HL Mencken (certainly no liberal) that the American people are a collection of dolts.


Dale R Streeter - 6/1/2010

Come on, Lisa! It's not a rational argument to dismiss a political commentator's point of view because you don't like his or her ideas. A blanket charge of lying and distortion without analyzing the work or article itself is not convincing. I know nothing of Beck, but Goldberg's book is thoughtful and has some valid points. (It's ludicrous cover is unfortunate, but that was his publisher's choice.) It's certainly a lot less virulent than Daniel Goldhagen's book, and that was praised to the skies for a much more tenuous argument. But then Goldhagen is a Harvard historian--more's the shame.

Also, you can't seriously believe that books by authors without "academic credentials" are less worthy than those by academics. The books of Barbara Tuchman and other independent scholars stand or fall on the quality of the work, not their place of employment. And please, Howard Zinn's book, however well regarded it is by "progressives" like Matt Damon, is hardly a scholarly work, there is not a single source reference to be found in it.


David Ryder - 6/1/2010

Right on!


David Ryder - 6/1/2010

Good thoughtful article. Nature abhors a vacuum.


David C - 6/1/2010

To assert that Palermo's version of history is true because he is an associate professor or that his "facts" are not jaded by his political views is simply false. His article makes it clear that his politics are progressive. His rant, it seems to me, shows that he is just another academic using his craft to advance his personal political agenda but cloaking his opinions/claims as fact. If he truly wants his students or his readers to seriously consider his view then he should do more than condescend and ridicule and perhaps dispassionately consider all sides of history. Sadly for his students he is not of this caliber. Based on his article it appears that he is just another hack trying to marginalize people of another political view.


David Ryder - 6/1/2010

This is just more of the same old tired attacks. "Glenn Beck just lies all the time" and never ever backing it up with substance.


David Ryder - 6/1/2010

Liberals? Maybe you don’t understand. I am taking about progressives. If liberals are telling truth about lies about history, don’t stop. But progressives hiding history I know why you’re doing it. And the story is always the same. Which one are you. So far I don’t see any substance. The scholarship is lacking in this article.
I provided four reasons why this article is progressive hype. That tells me I can pick it apart brick by brick.
1.) Anti Jerry Falwell 2.) Anti Fox 3.) The honorary degree 4.) His monthly earnings .5) A swipe at Jonah Goldberg. 6.) Ignorant ordinary Americans.
That’s just the first two paragraphs It goes on 7.) Gullible audience 8.) big business exploit the country land 9.) and labor 10.) unrestrained corporate power 8.) anti Christian (It quoted Nietzsche)
I have to stop it is pointless because Mr. Palermo offers no scholarly thought and no substance in this article. None.


John Huettner - 6/1/2010

Excuse me; but your smarmy, solipsistic article impugning Beck, Goldberg, and anyone else who dares take a slightly different view of history than those held by invariably left liberal "historians" populating our campuses makes me, in a word, sick.

Of course, being an associate professor at an obscure university extension I'm sure makes you an expert about everything it is you've cared to read over the years. Nonetheless, some of us losers who actually read things like source records, actual speeches, quotations, and the like -- then use them to footnote our arguments, as you say, to acquire the "trappings" of the academy -- have viewpoints that are, to say the least, different from the "vast majority" of lefty profs.

Perhaps it's because conservatives just can't ever seem to get hired at university, much less get tenure, because lefty prigs have burrowed their way so deeply into the woodwork it would take twenty years of sanitization (or at least, an even playing field), just to have alternative views aired.

As for accuracy, you make me laugh. No less a great authority than the History Channel routinely makes outrageous gaffes, such as in an episode of America, The Story of Us, where the announcer intoned that the Japanese surrendered "the day after Nagasaki." This isn't to mention the lefty apocrypha trash, such as the nauseating conspiracy theory programs suggesting some conservative, rather than lefty loser Lee Oswald, murdered President Kennedy. But somehow, I'm sure people like you have zero problems with programming like THAT, because it implicates someone -- anyone -- other than the left in some of the most heinous crimes in our history.

But, back to you, for a moment. Rather than engaging in sweeping generalizations about Beck's arguments, your article does nothing but ridicule, isolate, and attempt to marginalize him. Seems like you've spent more time reading Rules for Radicals than you have reading real history. Let's take Wilson, for an example. Do you HAVE a response to Beck's argument that Wilson lied us into the Great War only a month after being inaugurated after running on the slogan, "He kept us out of war"? Do you have a response to his claim that Wilson then initiated the Sedition Acts, one of the most shameful moments in our recent history? Do you deny that Wilson deplored true democracy and was often quoted as saying that voters were an impediment and the real business of goverment ought to be left to technocrats like, well, Wilson, who "understood" so much more than the rest of us? You can't because their words are there for anyone to see; unvarnished and without the whitewash of rigid, lockstep, "historians" like yourself who have but one view of history: Wilson good, Nixon bad, Roosevelt I, good and bad, Roosevelt II, great, and so on.

It seems to me, if you wanted to challenge Beck, you could have, to paraphrase YOU, used some of the "trappings" of a REAL historian by pointing out factual inaccuracies and providing citation. But, that's not how liberals argue, and never has been.

I won't even bother getting into it with you about separation of church and state, other than to challenge you to show me where THOSE words appear in our Constitution. You can't, because they don't, and there ought to be a real debate about the meaning of the Establishment Clause. True to form, you merely sneered at Beck, as if he's somehow mentally unhinged for taking a position contrary to that cooked up by a series of lefty "historians" over the last century and spoon-fed to college students too ignorant to know the facts.

The trouble is, many of us can read, and reason, and reject the framework that your ilk has concocted. You sneer about Texas wanting to make changes in the historical curriculum, as you claim, to somehow obscure the truth. Well, guess what? About 70% of the adult population of Texas disagrees with you. You've had free reign in colleges and univerities for years because, frankly, nobody else with a brain wanted those jobs.

So, have fun writing articles about Glenn Beck. Many, many people are mad as hell about being fed historical lies, and we're going to set the record straight, whether you like it or not.


Lisa Kazmier - 5/31/2010

When did Beck, Horowitz or Goldberg produce historically accurate scholarship? They're about as scholarly as Michelle Malkin, which mean there is NOTHING scholarly about it. They LIE, they obfuscate, they distort, they have agendas to cherry pick for support. The historical record never comes first.

You may disagree with Zinn but he actually has academic credentials.


Maarja Krusten - 5/31/2010

A hot day in Washington so I have more time to browse the web at home than I usually do.

The issue that I’m interested in is why some Americans turn to non-historians (the Becks, the Goldbergs on one side, film makers such as Oliver Stone and Michael Moore on the other) for “history.” Is it because some people seek out narratives that reinforce views they hold and perhaps that comfort them? If that is the acknowledged or unacknowledged goal, they may well seek out advocates rather than experts in formulating unbiased conclusory narratives. But the big question is, why and how have historians self-marginalized themselves with so many ordinary Americans? How did this happen to a fact-oriented profession that is supposed to start with a topic or a question and bravely to go wherever the data takes the scholar? How did the profession become so irrelevant to so many Americans?

I don’t follow Beck or Goldberg or Moore because I’m an historian myself. I read history and biography almost exclusively. But I have to wonder whether non-historians are filling a gap with some Americans that wouldn’t be so big if the history profession were more robust and self-aware. More thought about what underlies public perceptions might make strengthen history’s role in public discourse. Sure, there are a few historians who appear on network and cable news shows from time to time (Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Norton Smith). But I think it’s more than the lack of exposure to real historians which makes non-historians so attractive to so many people.

Some of the wounds are self-inflicted. There was no need for historians to try to rank George W. Bush as president before his term of office had ended and before archival records were available. The best they could do was judge him by outcomes. Why the rush? Obviously, some academics are out and out political advocates. The liberal or conservative scholar who writes for a political advocacy website has to realize he or she is going to largely reach only the choir and risk losing moderates and centrists. (It’s not impossible for someone on the right or left to defend officials from the other party or to push back against ahistoricism on one’s own side but that just doesn’t happen often on advocacy oriented sites. Something about the vibe, it seems. At any rate, I rarely see it on The Corner or Huffington Post or any of the other sites I sometimes look in on.) But the biggest problem for historians seems to be failing to recognize why those members of the public who rush to dismiss academics as elites stereotyped them as principals in the culture wars in the first place.

Marginalization appears to stem in part from the failure by academics to recognize that history narratives that did not take a triumphalist approach that emphasized exceptionalism might be misunderstood or misrepresented as stemming from lack of patriotism. In many instances, such an approach had nothing to do with patriotism or love of country. No more than an internal survey within your workplace that uncovers managerial or process or systemic problems stems from hatred of the company for which you work. No entity is perfect because all depend on humans who err and stumble as often as they excel.

Too many historians overlooked how their work might look to those who never read it but only heard in characterized and who nodded and accepted images painted by third parties. Too many historians have allowed their critics to define them and to paint them as caricatures. That need not have happened. That it did is due to their largely having failed to step up and explain effectively why history involves looking at the good, the bad, and the indifferent, with all the complexities and ambiguities that such examination entails. Too often, instead of standing up for the profession as a whole, regardless of the schools of writing they personally have chosen, we get left-leaning academics taking potshots at the right and right-leaning academics taking potshots at the left. That just plays into the hands of non-historians eager to fill the roles with the public that scholars should be filling.


Michael Green - 5/31/2010

In other words, "liberals" are doing a disservice to their country by telling the truth about lies about history? I am reminded of Edward R. Murrow's line about himself and McCarthy: “When the record is finally written, as it will one day, it will answer the question, who has helped the Communist cause and who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy or I? I would like to be remembered by the answer to that question.” Any historian who tries to correct Glenn Beck's--or anyone else's, liberal or conservative--perversion of history for purposes of partisan or monetary gain should also want to be remembered for the answer to the question of who did more for his or her country and profession. To attack this article on the grounds that it is dismissive of "Dr." Beck's view of and approach to history is no better than Beck's lies about history, and history is too important to be treated in that way.


Dale R Streeter - 5/31/2010

This hatred of the conservative view and of those who will not accept the "progressive" agenda is now really becoming ludicrous--especially on this site.
Two examples:
First, why is David Horowitz always described as a "far-right ideologue" and Howard Zinn and his minions are never described as "far-left' or "radical"?
Second, when did footnotes and sources become "trappings" of scholarship. Are they only necessary or valid when the argument is one you agree with?
The use of the word "trappings" suggests that Goldberg and his scholarship are bogus and unreliable. Is that your argument? Why not say so?
Make your argument on the merits and save the snide innuendo for the MSM.


David Ryder - 5/31/2010

Don't forget to list an impending large meteor strike as another possible disaster. It is always the same lies with the progressives. Always. 1.)GB makes too much money. 2.)The issues are too complicated for the stupid massses. 3.)The anti-christian theme and finally the Big Tell; 4.)He misinforms his helpless viewers but the critics never ever have corroborating facts to back it up. The United States is not in better shape today and you can blame that on pernicious progressivism. Thanks to God that the Constitution is NOT a living document or we would most certainly be lost today cast adrift on an open sea. It is a beacon calling us back. We know our present course is a disaster and our liberties are finished if we don't return.

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