A Historian Against Obama

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Mr. Young is a graduate student in history at Indiana University, the editor of http://www.progressivehistorians.com and a writer for the History News Service.

A star-studded group of historians, including several former Presidents of the American Historical Association, has issued a statement supporting Senator Barack Obama for President in 2008.  “…It is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack,” they write.  “Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness - or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. As president, Barack Obama would only begin the process of healing what ails our society and ensuring that the U.S. plays a beneficial role in the world. But we believe he is that rare politician who can stretch the meaning of democracy. …”

I congratulate the “Historians for Obama” on obtaining the support of such a wide-ranging and impressive group of intellectuals, but I cannot join them in backing Senator Obama.  And since my distinguished colleagues have seen fit to offer their endorsement in their professional capacity as historians, I deem it necessary to respond to their collective statement.

I agree with the “Historians for Obama” that the situation America faces today is stark.  Ours is a nation soaked in Iraqi blood, shamed by the systematic use of torture, aggressively culpable in global climate change, increasingly unfair in domestic wealth and power distribution.  Our military is strained to the breaking point, our poor and ill increasingly helpless, our environment ravaged by corporate greed.  Seven years of regressive government have left Washington barren of moral authority both at home and in the world.  Simply put, America is in crisis.

To undo these wrongs and put America back on track, our next president will need to exercise what scholar James MacGregor Burns has termed “transformative leadership” – the ability to inspire Americans to collective action while pursuing policies of substantive change.  He or she will need to follow in the footsteps of men like Woodrow Wilson, who strode confidently into the halls of Versailles and shaped a League of Nations out of the ruins of World War I; Franklin Roosevelt, who substantially defeated the Great Depression in a mere hundred days of aggressive New Deal programs; and Harry Truman, whose Marshall Plan boldly fought Communism by rebuilding war-ravaged Europe.

Like the “Historians for Obama,” I initially had high hopes that Senator Obama would be such a transformative leader.  After hearing his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I was prepared to enthusiastically support his candidacy.

But Senator Obama has not campaigned in the bold, pathbreaking manner in which he delivered that speech.  On the contrary, the entire record of his campaign is one of equivocation and half-measures.  To name just a few examples, Obama has sought to undo decades of successful government secularization by advocating for more overt expressions of faith in the halls of politics.  Despite his initial opposition to the war, he has refused to pledge an end to American military involvement in Iraq or to take the lead in Congress on ending the war.  He has campaigned with a homophobic minister, Rev. Donnie McClurkin, and refused to disavow McClurkin even when the man’s views were pointed out to him.  He has ceded leadership to other candidates on issues such as poverty, gay rights, and the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.  These are not the actions of a strong leader, but of a man afraid to stand up for his beliefs.

(As an aside, I categorically reject the notion that I or anyone else should vote for Obama as “a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry” in what is shaping up to be easily the most critical election in a generation.  That a group of distinguished historians would advocate such a consideration, even in passing, is deeply troubling to me.  The only way to break with this tradition is to judge Senator Obama not by the color of his skin, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, but by the content of his character.)

Nor does Senator Obama’s 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, offer assurances that he comprehends the enormity of the next president’s task.  On the contrary, he appears to value compromise and civility over bold and decisive action. In his book, Obama looks longingly back to “a time before the fall, a golden age in Washington when, regardless of which party was in power, civility reigned and government worked.”  He writes, “I believe any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in.”

On the contrary, I believe that Obama and his supporters misapprehend the moment we’re in.  The “Historians for Obama” want to “begin the process of healing what ails our society,” to bring back the ephemeral Camelot of the Kennedy years.  But they forget that Kennedy succeeded a moderate Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, who epitomized bipartisanship, supported the New Deal social welfare programs, and opposed McCarthyism and the “military-industrial complex” (a phrase he coined).  Kennedy’s message of unity and civility was desirable only because the opposition was respectable.

But there can be no civility or compromise with a president who spies on American citizens without a warrant, who tortures suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, who manipulates and fires U.S. Attorneys in order to politicize their positions, or who pardons an aide who has outed a CIA agent.  We do not need Obama to heal the rift between good and evil, or to bind up the nation’s wounds with Bush’s venom still in her bloodstream.  Obama’s balms of civility and bipartisanship may lull Americans into complacency, but they seem ill-equipped to end the outrages and injustices of the current administration’s policies and restore America to moral solvency.  Obama has given us no indication that he will exercise the bold, far-reaching, and, yes, partisan leadership that will be necessary to undo the travesties of the past seven years.

I believe that we as historians should not rush to support a candidate who has traded the audacity of hope for the mendacity of politics as usual.  History shows us that, in times of national strife, the American people demand transformative change; we do them no favors by endorsing a man who offers only empty words.

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    More Comments:

    Rose Jacqueline Castro - 10/6/2008

    After reading the article by Jeremy Cameron Young "A Historian Against Obama" I admire his courage to speak his mind when so many historian came out for Obama. He makes a compelling case. READ IT!

    Michael Miguel Prats - 1/30/2008

    I read Jeremy Youngs opinion and they sounded reasonable. Then I read
    Joseph Ellis' article and thought to myself, wow, these guys are really smart. They sure know more than me,
    Mr.Average Joe Q Citizen. Since the candidate I preferred, Ron Paul, is
    definitely not going to get the nomination from his party, who do heck do I go with??? Many of my friends say they're not even going to vote because it's all rigged anyway and voting doesn't count anymore. I'd love to hear what you experts have to say. I'll keep reading the HNN website but it would be interesting to hear what anybody has to say. Thanks!

    John Edward Philips - 1/8/2008

    They all kept us out as long as they could. TR wanted to jump into WWI long before Wilson went along. Truman wasn't the one who started the North Korean invasion of the south either. And FDR? Are you really one of those conspiracy theorists who think he knew about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance?

    Or do you just oppose any or all of those wars and think they shouldn't have been fought at all?

    Alex Joel Todd - 12/24/2007

    Who then are you voting for?

    Carol Hamilton - 12/13/2007

    Civility in civil society! What a concept! I'm all for it.

    Civility would also be a good practice for those who post comments online.

    J. Feuerbach - 12/10/2007

    Mr. Young states, "And since my distinguished colleagues have seen fit to offer their endorsement in their professional capacity as historians, I deem it necessary to respond to their collective statement."

    Another thread discusses the topic of collective endorsements by members of a particular discipline, in this case historians. I'd like some clarification about the words "in their professional capacity as historians." I think it's perfectly ok for a group of intellectuals to get together to support or trash a candidate or an issue. My concern, as I already stated elsewhere, is the relevance of a collective endorsement by professionals of the same discipline.

    Is there a connection between the quality of an endorsement of a candidate and the type of professionals endorsing him/her? What if 70 architects got together to support Hillary? What would the words "in their professional capacity as architects" mean? Would they support her because of her ideas or projects in the field of architecture that would hopefully improve the quality of life in the inner city? If that weren't the case, what would be the purpose of identifying themselves as architects?

    Now let's apply this to history. If 70 historians decided to support a candidate following a dinner with great food and booze, that's perfectly ok. But if that weren't the case, wouldn't it be somewhat megalomaniac on the part of those 70 guys and gals to think of themselves as the spokespersons for history?

    Bottom line? I hope the 70 historians endorsed Obama "in their capacity of concerned US citizens who happen to be historians" and not "in their professional capacity as historians."

    Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/8/2007

    Yeah, and Lincoln had no right to arrest the Maryland legislature, either, but it worked. When Eisenhower deposed Mossadeq it worked for nearly 20 years, and I would dispute your allegation that the Shah was widely hated, except by ignorant clerics. Palavi was intensely patriotic, built modern roads and cities, refineries, etc. He saw Persia returning to its ancient glory as the world's crossroads. Mossadeq was just another foolish old socialist/communist, of the type Lenin dubbed "useful idiots."

    Maarja Krusten - 12/7/2007

    Is civility namby pamby? David Abshire doesn't think so. He believes civility does not require giving up your principles. You may not want to click on the links to his works that I posted above, but perhaps you'll take the time to read this excerpt.

    Abshire wrote in 2004: "I argue that in the great historical accomplishments of America, these apparent opposites—commitment and tolerance—are bridged by civility. Civility, as used here, is not simply following rules of etiquette and decorum for the sake of tradition or in order to coat over any differences. In its deepest sense, civility means respect, listening, and dialogue. It does not mean watering down or giving up cherished principles. Indeed, civility has often been exercised in the American experience in order to move to the higher, common ground. In his writings on civility, Stephen Carter reminds us of 'two of the gifts that civility brings to our lives: first, it calls for us to sacrifice for others as we travel through life. And, second, it makes the ride tolerable.'

    In the American experience, civility has not always prevailed, and its role in our political culture cannot be taken for granted. . . . If we can listen to each other with humility, the positive — almost sacred — accomplishments and qualities of the American experience can enrich and fortify us to live the fullness of the American dream."

    Abshire believes that ". . . America has two histories, the history of commitment and the history of tolerance. The better-known version of commitment is the one written by the winners, those who through strength of arms, power of mind, and sureness of purpose wrenched thirteen colonies away from their imperial masters and forged a nation unique in the history of the world. This is the passionate America born of courageous principles — commitment to the fundamental principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is the America of the revolution that defied King George III, the America of the Declaration of Independence, the America of the 'greatest generation' that defeated Hitler’s tyranny, and, if I might add a personal note, the America that I experienced fighting for freedom in Korea.

    But there is another history and another force that has seen America through some of its most difficult challenges. This story is less glamorous, to be sure, but perhaps even more important. It is marked by countless unsung instances of peaceful disagreement resolved in a spirit of give-and-take and fair play. The foundations of our government that still persevere today were laid during this period. This is the America of compromise and collaboration in the face of differences when strong personal convictions were balanced by a willingness to work for the common good. It is the America of Lincoln’s
    'malice toward none and charity for all.'”

    Neither history tells the whole story because it is the interaction of these forces, of commitment and tolerance, of passion and civility, that has been the hallmark of the American experience. Indeed, while commitment without tolerance produces a sort of zealous, destructive fundamentalism, tolerance without commitment entails a moral
    reserve that can degenerate into moral vacuity or paralysis (“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”). In the balance of these forces lies the genius of the American experience.”

    Posted on personal time

    Jeremy Young - 12/7/2007

    Mr. Rader, you're most welcome, and thanks for your comment.

    Ed Rader - 12/7/2007

    As a relatively well educated and well read history "layman", I want to praise Mr. Young to the rafters for his clear-headed look at boith Mr. Obama and our current political situation. Thank you, Mr Young, for reminding me why there is nothing crazy about beleiving that the aggressively regressive policies of the Bush II regime require aggressively progressive countermeasure, noit some namby-pamby civility and making "nice".. this country is at war with itself, whether most of us realize it or not.. and the great majority of us are losing...

    Maarja Krusten - 12/7/2007

    I understand entirely what you mean when you say actions speak louder than words. You're talking about leading by example. I just happen to be very interested in rhetoric used by politicians – and the echoes of it in the blogosphere – for two reasons, one professional, one personal. In my former job at the National Archives, I immersed myself in the Nixon Presidency, listening over a 10-year period to some 2,000 of 3,700 hours of the White House tapes. (Elsewhere on HNN this week, an historian and current Archives’ employee, Sam Rushay, provides a vivid look at what is involved in such work.) Listening to the tapes and working with other records, such as White House files and the journals of chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, provided many insights into Nixon’s communications strategy and the tactics used to try to mold public opinion. Seemingly spontaneous letter writing campaigns by the public turned out to have their origins with Nixon’s operatives. In some instances, advertisements placed in newspapers by seemingly nonpolitical groups turned out to be financed by the Committee to Re-elect the President.

    On a personal note, I’m an Independent in political terms. I’m not a member of any party. At the county, state and national levels, I sometimes vote for candidates of one party, sometimes the other. And I’m not an ideologue by nature. I used to vote straight Republican (from 1972 through 1988) but became an Independent around 1989 or 1990. Since I’m not an ideologue, I’m fascinated by blogs that provide glimpses into the views of people on the right and on the left. Some of the essays are reasonable – but the message boards! There is no inhuman mass of evil, cartoon-like characters among the voters, determined to bring down our nation. The people who vote for President are our colleagues, our neighbors, members of our families. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at some right and left wing message boards.

    Which brings me to back to the issue of civility. Well worth considering is David Abshire’s 2004 essay, The Grace and Power of Civility: Lessons from the American Experience, available at http://www.thepresidency.org/pubs/Grace&;PowerofCivility.pdf
    The Center for the Study of the Presidency (http://www.thepresidency.org/ )
    has an updated Declaration for 2008, which points to past events, as does Abshire’s original essay. See http://www.thepresidency.org/Legislature/civility.html

    I’ll also point to these presentations on governance and leadership from a conference held at Villanova in 2004:
    The one thing I often find missing in discussions of the Presidency by academic historians is a visceral sense of what it is like to handle stewardship obligations as an executive. Perhaps it is because leadership is something that academics sometimes study but not all of them actually have held positions where management of people and resources is a core (rather than a peripheral) function in their jobs. It's not at the center of how they earn their pay. Nevertheless, some academic historians do well in analyzing what is involved in leadership, others seem to struggle. I'm glad to see you're so interested in these issues.

    Jeremy Young - 12/7/2007

    I don't disagree that any attempt at unifying leadership will be difficult for the next President. But I'm of the opinion that transformational, ideological leadership makes this easier for him/her, not harder. People who disagree with a leader's politics are often willing to support him/her based on inspirational values alone. To bring up just one example, Senator Paul Wellstone was trailing his Republican opponent by five points in the polls just before the Iraq War vote in 2002; Wellstone nevertheless voted against the bill, knowing that it would paint him as overly liberal and perhaps even unpatriotic. Instead of dropping, his poll numbers jumped ten points overnight, as people who disagreed with his vote flocked to his support because he was a principled leader. It's that sort of leadership that will unite us, not centrist positions and flowery language.

    Jeremy Young - 12/7/2007

    Let's look at this very simply: Mossadegh was democratically elected. The Shah was not. We had no right to depose a democratically-elected, non-Communist leader in favor of a dictator abhorred by the people of Iran, just because we thought it was "likely" Mossadegh might turn Soviet at a later date. The Iranian people did not appreciate this gesture on our part, and they paid us back by taking the next opportunity they had to remove the hated Shah; unfortunately for us, this new leader was much less pro-Western than even Mossadegh had been.

    Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/6/2007

    Eisenhower cooperated with the British and the Shah to depose Dr. Mossadeq in order to preclude the chance of Iran falling under Soviet control--which was likely under Mossadeq. In fact, ever since Patrick Hurley's mission in the mid 1940s, every American president supported Shah Palavi until Jimmy Carter came along, and stupidly pulled the rug out from under him, bringing us most of the subsequent trouble in the Middle East.. The Shah was the best thing that ever happened to Iran. He sent tens of thousands of students overseas, and almost dragged his country into the modern world. To suggest Eisenhower and not Carter was responsible for the rise of Khomeini is absurd. It was Carter who decided it was better that millions should die in the Iran-Iraq War, and tens of thousands should be shot and stoned to death for adultery, and that Iranian unemployment should rise to over 30% and stay there for decades, than to have a few dozen political prisoners kept in SAVAK cellars. Carter, you see, favored "human rights."

    Ralph E. Luker - 12/6/2007

    My "assumptions" aside, you keep avoiding the self-evidential claims of your original comment. I would, too, if I were you.

    John R. Maass - 12/6/2007

    Dear Mr. Luker--again you jump so quickly to make an assumption that is false. Oh when will you stop? I am actually not a conservative (nor am I a "neo-con"), and thus Lawrence Brooks Hughes, is not my compatriot. Don't even know him. Again my advice to you, which I learned years back as a hunter and later a soldier, is to aim before you shoot. I provided this advice to you earlier, but sadly you chose not to take it. With best regards, sir, I am, JM

    Maarja Krusten - 12/6/2007

    Let’s say you’re the candidate. On the campaign trail you say what you wrote above:

    “Ours is a nation soaked in Iraqi blood, shamed by the systematic use of torture, aggressively culpable in global climate change, increasingly unfair in domestic wealth and power distribution. Our military is strained to the breaking point, our poor and ill increasingly helpless, our environment ravaged by corporate greed. Seven years of regressive government have left Washington barren of moral authority both at home and in the world. Simply put, America is in crisis.”

    You also tell the voters, “We do not need. . . to heal the rift between good and evil, or to bind up the nation’s wounds with Bush’s venom still in her bloodstream.”

    Then you win and take the oath of office. The people who voted for the party that loses the White House are not throwaways. Just as are the people who voted for you, they are in dependent positions in the face of your executive powers. How do you convince them you will not abuse those powers or use them in ways that deliberately target them? I’m not talking about policy making. Of course you have to accept that you are unlikely to convince people who fundamentally disagree with you there that your policies are better than what they advocate. I’m talking about overall use of power and your general intentions for the nation.

    So what to do say to the people who had voted into office the President of whom you said his “venom” still is in the nation’s bloodstream? The people who voted for Bush are your fellow Americans. Some 30% support his policies still (the number has risen a tiny bit over the low reached earlier in 2007, I am not predicting what it will be in 2008). What tone do you tell your version of Dana Perino or Mike McCurry to use?

    As President, you face some extra challenges in the 21st century in crafting your communications strategy. In FDR’s day, citizens would read about the President -- and his surrogates -- in the newspaper and hear his voice on the radio. But there was no 24 hour news cycle with a constant need to fill airtime. More so than in the past, the faces of politicians are not the only faces of your party. There are countless bloggers out there, speaking for the right and the left. Some take reasonable stances, some post in an inflammatory fashion. And then there are the comment boards! Some of what I see in Internet forums seems like the Yellow Journalism of a hundred years ago on steroids.

    Not all who blog or comment take the civil tone that you and Mark Safranski (Zenpundit) take in commenting on each other’s views. (Yes, I saw your comments in Inside Higher Ed at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/12/05/mclemee
    And Mark’s post at http://zenpundit.com/?p=2510 )
    So you and your press spokesperson and surrogates have to convince the people you govern that those who scream “imprison them” or “treason” and countless other epithets at anyone who disagrees with their ideological or political stance do not speak for you. But you have to do it without discouraging those who voted for you from continuing to support you. Not easy!

    An extra challenge for you as President – while blogs (many of which are stovepiped echo chambers which keep dissident views out through deletion or intimidation) have proliferated, a recent study shows that Americans read far fewer books than in the past. "’This is a massive social problem," NEA chairman Dana Gioia, said by phone from Washington. ‘We are losing the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything close to their potential because of poor reading.’" Another observer noted in the Boston Globe recently why people lose out if they don’t read books: "The habit of regular reading awakens something inside a person that makes him or her take their own life more seriously and at the same time develops the sense that other people's lives are real."
    Perhaps that explains some of the lack of empathy or fundamental respect for others that I sometimes see in Internet forums.

    For all these reasons, formulating an effective communications strategy definitely will be a challenge for the next President, whether he or she is a transformative figure or not.

    Jeremy Young - 12/6/2007

    Mr. Hughes, I don't consider either Truman or Kennedy to be "heroes," but I didn't want to argue the point with the Historians for Obama (and Truman's Marshall Plan was, indeed, rather heroic). I will vouch for Wilson and FDR, however. I reject the notion that peace at all costs is always better than war. In my view, Wilson and FDR were correct to enter the World Wars when they did -- in fact, doing so was an act of heroism on their part. Meanwhile, Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan sanctioned CIA-led wars in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Liberia (and Kennedy did too, with the Bay of Pigs). Eisenhower's actions in Iran also led to the rise of Khomeini and the taking of the hostages years later. The fact that America was not directly involved in wars under these Presidents does not wash their hands clean of blood by any stretch of the imagination.

    Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/6/2007

    By the way, Jeremy, your other hero, John F. Kennedy, led us into yet another awful war. By the time he died he had sent the first 17,000 American troops into Vietnam.

    At some point you ought to enter the horrendous price paid in war dead and maimed against the records of these past Democratic presidents. In 53 years under Republican presidents between 1898 and 1991, we were always at peace. Wilson, FDR, Truman and JFK, however, served in the other 40 years of that 93-year period... This could have a bearing on why most Americans today prefer the GOP when national security is an issue.

    Jeremy Young - 12/5/2007

    Thanks for your comment -- you raise what's basically the strongest objection I can think of to my thesis, that there are different types of transformational leadership and that Obama's is superior to what I'm suggesting (the "Dean style," to oversimplify things a bit). I'll readily admit the first part of that -- there's a time to "bind up the nation's wounds," as Lincoln put it -- but I don't think that after eight years of rightward shift for this nation it is now time to make peace and leave things as they are, as Obama proposes to do. We need an equal and opposite push to the left to return to any sort of equilibrium between liberal and conservative, in my view. That's not what Obama is selling, no matter what some of his supporters might like to believe.

    Jeremy Young - 12/5/2007

    Thanks for your comments. You're correct about the challenges, but I would argue that a truly transformational leader is capable of transcending these and making people forget their disagreements with him/her by sheer inspiration alone. If you don't believe me, look at the shocking rise of Mike Huckabee, a far-right religious conservative who has shot to the top of polls through his transformational speaking style alone. If Huckabee can do it, I think the ability of a more mainstream figure with a transformational style to pull it off is not really in question.

    Stuart Buck - 12/5/2007

    Even with the qualifier "substantially," are there any economic historians who agree with that assessment?

    Maarja Krusten - 12/5/2007

    The issue of transformational leadership interests me, as I've made a career of studying Presidents. I’ve often thought that if we in our families and our workplaces used the type of rhetoric often seen on the campaign trail, we’d all end up divorced, estranged from or families and fired from our jobs. Doesn’t that point to one of the great challenges in acting as a transformational leader, regardless of political party?

    Presidents have to be able to govern effectively after winning election. That takes constant work in building and sustaining relationships and trust – with the people being governed, with subordinates tasked with carrying out their policies, with world leaders. Motivating people and getting their buy-in can be very challenging.

    I’ve worked for the government for 34 years and in my experience, the people who achieved the best results as managers in the Federal offices in which I’ve worked exuded quiet confidence and a liking for their staff. They were able to build effective relationships even with those who had competed with them for the promotions they won. Having done it, I know how people can go above and beyond, sometimes putting in long hours at home on personal time to complete projects because they respected their governmental boss and wanted him or her to look good. You didn’t want to let down a good boss, it’s how you rewarded him for his good stewardship. By contrast, bosses who bad-mouthed others and used questionable tactics to get ahead lost out in the long run, as subordinates as a group never put forth as much effort in working for them as they did for managers whom they liked and trusted. Isn’t it much the same in any workplace, in the private as well as the public sector?

    In a democracy, since he doesn’t govern by fiat, a President has to walk a fine line, holding to his governing principles (ideological or otherwise) but not coming across as if he is afraid of or disdains the people who voted against him. They are, after all, all in his care once he takes office, whether they voted for him or not. It’s very challenging to strike the right tone and to craft a message that persuades a large group of people to buy in to what you’re selling once you hold the reins of power. . The whole process of governance is awfully complicated and lots of things go on behind the scenes that are not visible to voters. Many citizens just don’t have the time or the means to educate themselves about all the nuances of governance. So a President has to get his message across in a simplified version. But the audience is diverse – some are ideologues who believe on core issues that there is only one right way to look at them; some say, “ok, you go your way, I’ll go mine, we’ll agree to disagree,” and still others have some give in how they look at issues.

    Most of us don’t communicate in anything close to the exaggerating and blame shifting style often found in the political world. (Well, there may be a few people who bite their tongues at home and on the job and then turn to Internet message boards to vent their frustrations – but I bet most of us are pretty much the same in the real world as we are in the virtual world.)

    Given this communications gap, the political process itself presents many challenges for leaders of either party who want to be transformational.

    Jeremy Young - 12/4/2007

    Mr. Buck, as I commented above, I meant only to say that Roosevelt made substantial progress in the first hundred days (i.e., substantially defeated). I should have been clearer; thanks for the correction.

    I actually am not as positive toward FDR as are many historians of my political persuasion, but there's no denying that he was a transformative leader, which was all I claimed in my piece.

    Stuart Buck - 12/4/2007

    Had to comment on this:

    Franklin Roosevelt, who substantially defeated the Great Depression in a mere hundred days of aggressive New Deal programs

    Defeated in a mere hundred days? That's an interesting view. Also, to paint Roosevelt as so far superior to Bush, one has to ignore the internment of Japanese-Americans, the attempt to pack the Supreme Court, the attempt to institute quasi-fascism under the National Recovery Administration, etc.

    Joseph Thomas Sloan - 12/4/2007

    I appreciate the clarification on FDR and I understand these sorts of historical comparisons are difficult to make. What troubles me is the notion that the bad policies of the past seven years are going to be reversed by more of the same winner take all politics. Things won't improve if each party is interested in governing only half the electorate.
    The current climate reminds me a lot of my elders' descriptions of 1968. I don't think things are as rough now as they were in that year but the tone is the same. It took years for the country to over the wounds of that period and, one could argue, an entire generation of voters has never gotten over it. Hyper-partisanship seems to be the favorite tool of Boomers and I think my generation has grown weary of it. That's why Obama is pulling ahead in Iowa. It's not because he's a minority and it's not because of his feel good message. He gives people the impression that the old resentments of the 60's and 70's can finally be put away for good. That really would be transformative.

    Ralph E. Luker - 12/4/2007

    Dear Brother Maass, My assumption, that you were a professor, had one alternative: that you were not a professor. I gave you the benefit of doubt. Your assumption, that Wilson, FDR, and Truman had *one* thing in common, actually had five alternatives -- at least. Your fellow conservative, Lawrence Brooks Hughes, guessed wrongly. Not so self-evident, is it, when even your ideological compatriot gets it wrong?

    Jeremy Young - 12/4/2007

    Mr. Sloan, a couple of corrections and clarifications. First of all, I don't object to the "destructive and venomous partisanship" of the Bush presidency; it's the policies, not the partisanship, I object to. I don't think you'll find me objecting to partisan or ideological politics just about anywhere, though there are moments for healing too (I would argue this isn't one of them).

    Second, on the transformative Presidents front: there are others I could have listed, most notably Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson's case is complex and let's just say that I have a qualified disagreement with the dominant scholarly opinion that his foreign policy viewpoints were anything like Bush's. And I was careful not to state that FDR ended the Depression in the first hundred days of his presidency, though perhaps not careful enough. I said he substantially ended the Depression, which he did; things were much better during his first term. Then the Depression came back, before the war finished it off for good.

    Finally, there are any number of people who either did or might have been involved in the Plame outing, but the grand jury indicted only one of them: Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He was tried and convicted for his crime; President Bush then saw fit to pardon him for it, which in my view was a disgraceful action.

    Joseph Thomas Sloan - 12/4/2007

    So after nearly eight years of what Mr. Young describes as a period of destructive and 'venemous' partisanship, his solution to our problems is . . . more partisanship? He is critical of Sen. Obama's refusal to set a withdrawl date in Iraq but he does not care to mention that no other candidate who has even a remote chance of winning a nomination has offered such a proposal. And no, Kucinich does not count here.
    Perhaps the most troubling section of Mr. Young's commentary was his listing of 'transformative' Presidents. He likes Wilson, a President whose foreign policy outlook can be most closely compared to our current President. He thinks FDR fixed the Depression in 100 days. In fact, he did not. World War II ended it and it is likely Roosevelt's spending prolonged the Depression. I hope he doesn't teach American history.
    By the way, Bush didn't pardon the person who outed Valerie Plame. It was Richard Armitage, and not Libby, who did the outing. If being a 'progressive' historian means never having to get the facts right, let's just give Mr. Young tenure right now.

    James Draper - 12/4/2007

    Ooops. Computer glitch.

    How can a Presidential candidate who smoked crack offer only empty words?

    James Draper - 12/4/2007


    John R. Maass - 12/4/2007

    Mr. Luker--I'm also surprised you couldn't (or wouldn't) see what the Big 3 Mr. Young mentioned had in common--he certainly did. I suspect you are just being disingenuous?

    By the way, you mention *my* assumption, but you are guilty of making a false one. I am not a professor. You may want to aim first, then fire. Works much better. Wishing you much better shooting in the future and the happiest of holidays, JM

    Ralph E. Luker - 12/3/2007

    Truman "got us into" Korea? If so, that's a 5th thing they have in common. Maass thinks a single thing is self-evident.

    Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/3/2007

    All three got us into big bad wars, Ralph.

    Ralph E. Luker - 12/3/2007

    I wouldn't worry much about Professor Maass's "preening and sanctimonious" condescension about his fellow historians' opinions, Jeremy. And, btw, what *do* Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Harry Truman all have in common? Is it that they are all male? Is it that they are all white? Is it that they are all Democrats? Is it that they were all Presidents? Professor Maass's *assumption* that the answer to his question is self-evident tells you a lot about Professor Maass.

    Jeremy Young - 12/3/2007

    Mr. Maass, I think "preening and sanctimonious" is going a bit too far. These individuals are at the top of their field, and deserve a great deal of respect for their accomplishments as for their opinions.

    Also, I do not deny that I am politically liberal; conservatives might wish to include Reagan on this list as well.

    John R. Maass - 12/3/2007

    Mr. Young is right to take to task preening and sanctimonious historians for supporting Obama on the basis of race. However, it is to me very interesting that when Mr. Young moves on to describe past practioners of "transformative leadership," he gives us Wilson, FDR and Truman. Hmmm. Wonder what all these guys have in commmon?

    Michael Glen Wade - 12/3/2007

    Hard to disagree with most of this. For the GOP, Huckaby is popular precisely because there is so little backbone among the candidates out there, even if his is a backbone firmly rooted in creationism. What both parties, and perhaps especially the Democrats, lack is a PLATFORM which speaks forthrightly about alternative energy, health care, illegal immigration, out-of-control spending, massive subsidies for well-heeled businesses, and how to address the country's infrastructure needs, including our railroad system. The recent rejection of New Orleans as a debate site for presidential nominees is yet another indicator of the essential bankruptcy of this presidential race. In New Orleans, the candidates could hardly avoid talking about what the country should be doing for its citizens in times of dire need. But that might lead to other substantive discussions instead of carefully orchestrated performance, and we mustn't have that.

    Patty A Morlan - 12/3/2007

    Well said, I agree.

    Jeremy Young - 12/3/2007

    Mr. Kislock, I agree with you that the media has unfairly delimited our choices in this election, but to be fair I don't like any of the other candidates any better than Obama -- which is why I don't offer a counterendorsement in this piece.

    Stephen Kislock - 12/3/2007

    Why are we the People to be left only two choses?

    Clinton or Obama?

    The Media, tells us who to chose...

    Go to http://www2.wqad.com/av2008/selectacandidate/gradequiz.php and see who has your Values?