Liberal historians say the conservative trends of the Bush years have long roots





For the last eight years, progressive historians have been vocally critical of the Bush-Cheney administration’s war in Iraq, war on terror, stress on free markets, and push to privatize government services like charter schools and social-welfare programs. But at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association here, the collective judgment seems to be that those trends haven’t been all that new — and won’t be easy to change.

In 2007 a group called Historians Against the War was successful in its call on the membership of the association to pass a resolution against the invasion of Iraq, over the objections of some historians that doing so would take a political stand as a group of scholars. The antiwar group has continued to meet, holding national conferences and sponsoring online publications that include an analysis of the historical record of the Bush administration and studies of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq, and resistance movements in World War II. At this year’s AHA meeting, the group gathered to reflect on the legacy of the Bush-Cheney years. While the session was not advertised in the official program, it drew more than 100 scholars.

“Much of my work as a historian has had to do with ideology and its role in shaping lives and policy,” said Alice Kessler-Harris, a professor of history at Columbia University. In the Bush-Cheney years, she said, three ideologies have had a major impact on American society. An “elusive concept” of terror has allowed the administration to wage pre-emptive war, support military force over diplomacy, and hide the human cost of the war in Iraq; the ideology of free markets has undercut government regulation of the economy and the workplace; and a “shift in the ideology of the individual” has emphasized that individuals need to have control over decisions — like what kind of health care they want.

None of those trends are new in the last eight years, Ms. Kessler-Harris said. The emphasis on free markets, for example, goes back at least 20 years. But the ideological trends have “reached an apogee” in the Bush-Cheney administration. Look, she said, at the language of class: In the recent presidential election, “nobody talked about the working class. We’re all the new middle class.” That means that the ideological shifts are deep-seated. While the election of Barack Obama may contain the seeds of change, it is far from clear how much change there will be, Ms. Kessler-Harris concluded....


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