Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obama Already Among the Best?

It took historians a full term of George W. Bush's presidency before they declared he was "the worst president ever." Now, only days after the election, at least one prominent historian is declaring that the presidency of Barack Obama will be "unforgettable" (h/t).
Like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D.Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F.Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan - the most memorable of the 18 presidents who served in the last century - Obama seems likely to become an unforgettable personality who presided over a transforming administration....

If Obama's campaign that brought him from relative obscurity in Illinois to the White House in so brief a time is any true measure of the man, we can have every hope that he will acquit himself admirably in the days ahead - and claim a place in the pantheon of America's most distinguished presidents.
There's no doubt that the election of Barack Obama is already historic. But the confidence and the stake-claiming already being made by historians regarding his Presidency gives me pause. In the coming years, through the various trials and tribulations that confront every President, I suspect that many of the "Historians for Obama" will be less than willing to admit their man have been wrong over this or that. Instead, we'll have contemporary "history" being written to justify his decisions and--by extension--the wisdom of those historians who so very publicly supported him. The reputation of the profession will be at stake, you see.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your observations. All those reporters who participated in the "coronation" of Obama have overlooked the fact that he is a Utopian socialist. John Lennon would have voted for him. I honestly think that he will work his butt off for the betterment of the country and he should make a lot of things better but years from now we will have to contend with the governments control of most aspects of our life.

Tim Lacy said...


Our beloved profession is, alas, all too human. We have the same frailties as all non-historians: overly hopeful, inclined to hyperbole on occasion, disdainful, etc. But all of us have the ability to minimize our interests, if we try. Because of this I trust that more than a few Obama supporters and Bush haters will have negative and positive things to say, respectively, when the time comes. Thankfully good histories don't start appearing for about a generation (e.g. 20 years) after the events that occur.

In sum, I offer a word of caution. Don't get caught doing the very thing you're accusing the Obama supporters of doing: being a historian who predicts the future wrongly. The nice thing about being human is that we also have the ability to self-correct.

- TL

Marc said...

As always, thanks. This is less a prediction than a sincere worry.

I know that historians are people too, but perhaps I HAVE put the profession on a pedestal.... I didn't like the whole "Historians for Obama" thing to begin with and I wouldn't have liked a "Historians for McCain" group either. The message it sent to the public--like it or not--was that, well, all Historians are for Obama (not just a select group) and that the fact that they were historians was important (or why else declare this in the beginning?). The popular belief is that history is about facts. There is not supposed to be a lot of hyperbole, etc. So even if Historians are "human", they can't have it both ways. They can't try to cash in on their expertise and then hide behind their humanity. Then again, I guess hypocrisy is human, too, eh?

Anyway, I have hope that my worries won't be born out and that the passing of a couple decades, as you suggest, will mitigate some of the hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Marc, but your complaint with "Historians for Obama" just doesn't make sense. "Women for McCain" doesn't suggest that *all* women are for McCain. A plural noun doesn't imply that it is a comprehensive noun. It was perfectly clear that "Historians for Obama" was *not* a function of the AHA, which is the closest thing that we have for an organization the approaches speaking for historians. You'll find, soon enough, plenty of historians who voted for Obama and, even, joined "Historians for Obama" exploring their policy differences with his administration.

Marc said...

I was fairly sure we'd disagree. I'm speaking as someone outside of, though familiar with, the profession. Yes, perhaps its an impressionistic opinion, but its based on conversations and observations over the last few months with liberals, conservatives and non-political people who didn't seem to make such a distinction. Perhaps, as I mentioned, if there had been a similar "Historians for McCain" the impression would have been different.

The most important thing, though, is I hope you're right!