Defending George W. Bush against harsh judgments of his presidency
In keeping with this blog’s well-deserved reputation for balance and fairness (heh, heh), I’m passing along THIS LITTLE ESSAY by Stephen F. Knott, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College:
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be dedicated Thursday at Southern Methodist University, an event that will draw all of the nation’s living presidents to Dallas. Despite the coming fanfare, many Americans consider Bush’s presidency a failure. There is little evidence that scholars, including the influential historians who pronounce the success or failure of an administration, are having second thoughts about their assessment of Bush as a failed chief executive. Unfortunately, far too many scholars revealed partisan bias and abandoned any pretense of objectivity in their rush to condemn the Bush presidency.
Many academics branded Bush a failure long before his presidency ended — and not just fringe elements of the academy, such as Ward Churchill or Howard Zinn, but also scholars from the nation’s most prestigious universities. In April 2006, Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz published an essay in Rolling Stone titled “The Worst President in History?” Wilentz argued that “George W. Bush’s presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace” in part because he had “demonized the Democrats,” hurting the nation’s ability to wage war.
The animus that scholars have directed toward Bush has at times made a mockery of the principle of academic objectivity. At the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in January 2009, a panel on the Bush-Cheney years organized by a group called Historians Against the War featured scholars from Columbia, Yale, Trinity College, New York University and Yeshiva University. They compared the Bush “regime’s” security practices to those of Joseph McCarthy and various “war criminals.” The cover illustration of the roundtable’s report showed Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, seated on a pile of human skulls.
All of this overheated rhetoric and fear-mongering has come from academics who profess to live the life of the mind. In their hasty, partisan-tinged assessments of Bush, far too many scholars breached their professional obligations, engaging in a form of scholarly malpractice, by failing to do what historians are trained to do before pronouncing judgment on a presidency: conduct tedious archival research, undertake oral history interviews, plow through memoirs, interview foreign leaders and wait for the release of classified information.