Punditry, Scholarship, and George W. Bush

Sean Wilentz of Princeton wondered if George W. Bush was “The Worst President in History?”  Eric Foner of Columbia University agreed with him.  (I found Foner’s remarks particularly problematic since in the immediate wake of 9-11 he reminded us that historians should be careful about analyzing any event until some time had past so that they could develop some perspective).  Historian Robert Dallek proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow for a “recall” of Bush.  Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said that Bush was a threat to the nation and the planet.

Stephen F. Knott, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the author of Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics (U of Kansas Press) notes that all of these historians are liberals who, of course, have strong political disagreements with Bush and his administration.  Fair enough.  But Knott, in his recent Washington Post article, goes on to argue that these political differences are getting in the way of historical objectivity.  He states that these historians “breached their professional obligations” and engaged in “scholarly malpractice.”

Here is a taste:

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…

…George W. Bush’s low standing among academics reflects, in part, the rise of partisan scholarship: the use of history as ideology and as a political weapon, which means the corruption of history as history. Bush may not have been a great president; he may even be considered an average or below-average president, but he and — more important — the nation deserve better than this partisan rush to judgment.  

Also of interest: “Historians Still Despire George W. Bush” and Julian Zelizer’s “History’s Jury is Still Out on George W. Bush.”

Re-Evaluating George W. Bush

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University will be dedicated tomorrow.  Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter will be there.

The New York Times reports:

More than four years after leaving office, former President George W. Bush has a question for America: So what would you have done? 

n a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?
The hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history. 
Here is another interesting paragraph from Peter Baker’s piece:
An intriguing aspect of the museum is who is featured and who is not. There is a statue of Mr. Bush with his father, a section devoted to Laura Bush’s travels, a video by his daughters and even statues of the family dogs and cat. In addition to Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush’s two chiefs of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. and Joshua B. Bolten, also narrate videos. But former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, the president’s political strategist, generally make only cameo appearances in news footage.

The Washington Post reports that Bush’s popularity is at a 7-year high.

Andrew Sullivan on David Kuo and the Passion and Joy of Evangelicalism

I did not know David Kuo, but I have read his book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.  I have also followed Kuo’s video posts at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish.  I was thus saddened to hear that Kuo died of cancer last week at the age of 44.

Kuo was best known as the evangelical Christian who served as the deputy director of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.  After he quit the organization he wrote Tempting Faith to expose how the Bush administration was using the office as a political prop.

Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, describes what it was like attending Kuo’s funeral at an evangelical mega-church.  His post reminds me of why I remain an Evangelical.  Thanks, Andrew.

Here is a taste:

I have never been to a mega-church service – which is something to be ashamed of, since I have written so often about evangelicalism’s political wing. And it was revealing. The theater was called a sanctuary – but it felt like a conference stage. There were no pews, no altar (of course), just movie-theater seats, a big complicated stage with a set, and four huge screens. It looked like a toned-down version of American Idol. I was most impressed by the lighting, its subtlety and professionalism (I’ve often wondered why the Catholic church cannot add lighting effects to choreograph the Mass). The lyrics of the religious pop songs – “hymns” doesn’t capture their Disney channel infectiousness – were displayed on the screens as well, allowing you to sing without looking down at a hymnal. Great idea. And the choir was a Christian pop band, young, hip-looking, bearded, unpretentious and excellent. Before long, I was singing and swaying and smiling with the best of them. The only thing I couldn’t do was raise my hands up in the air.

This was not, in other words, a Catholic experience. But it was clearly, unambiguously, a Christian one…

…What I guess I’m trying to say is that so many of us have come to view evangelical Christianity as threatening, and in its political incarnation, it is at times. But freed from politics, evangelical Christianity has a passion and joy and Scriptural mastery we could all learn from. The pastors were clearly of a higher caliber than most of the priests I have known – in terms of intellect and command. The work they do for the poor, the starving, and the marginalized in their own communities and across the world remains a testimony to the enduring power of Christ’s resurrection. 

In some way, this was David’s last gift to me. His own unvarnished, embarrassingly frank belief helped me get over my prejudices against evangelicalism as a lived faith. His faith strengthened mine immeasurably, especially when we were among the first two to bail on the Bush administration in its first term. It was not a shock that his last day above the ground opened up more windows and doors in my mind. He doubtless hoped it would.

I feel no grief. I remain, as someone once said, surprised by joy.

David Kuo

David Kuo was the Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the George W. Bush administration.  In 2006 he published Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.  Here is a description of that book:

David Kuo came to Washington wanting to use his Christian faith to end abortion, strengthen marriage, and help the poor. He reached the heights of political power, ultimately serving in the White House under George W. Bush. It was a dream come true: the chance to fuse his politics and his faith, and an opportunity for Christians not just to gain a seat at the proverbial table but also to plan the entire meal.  

Yet his experience was deeply troubling. He had been seduced, just as so many evangelical conservatives had been seduced by politics. Tempting Faith is a wrenching personal journey and a heartfelt plea for a Christian reexamination of political and spiritual priorities.

In 2003, while he was working for the president, Kuo was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He has been fighting it ever since.

Over The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan has been posting videos of Kuo answering questions from readers.  Here him discuss prayer, Christianity, Obamacare, and conservatism.  Listen to them here.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

The Bush Test

As Mark Bauerlein notes, the name “George W. Bush” is a conversation stopper in most academic settings. As he puts it:

…the mention of the man’s name halts one conversation and ignites another one.  In gatherings with academic friends and colleagues, it has a visceral effect.  I’ve witnessed it time and again as people have talked about the economy or about education or about the Middle East and I recalled No Child Left Behind or the highway/transportation bill or Bush’s disgust with Arafat, always adding the ex-President’s name.

When Bauerlein finds himself in one of these conversation he invokes “The Bush Test.”  Here it is:

For awhile, I responded by invoking this or that fact, mildly raising a bit of evidence to complicate the Bush-was-100-percent-wrong judgment, such as the superiority of Bush’s appointments to the agencies closest to their work (the NEH and NEA).  But when the animus is so strong, facts and qualifiers can’t be heard.  Bush was so contemptible, stupid, heedless, stubborn, anti-intellectual, anti-science, cowboy-ish, and incompetent that any exculpatory point strikes them as a treacherous compromise.

It looks Elton John would pass the Bush Test:

George W. Bush Was a Flaming Liberal

One name has been been notoriously absent from the GOP primary season: George W. Bush.

Why have Santorum, Romney, Gingrich, and Paul not mentioned the last GOP president?  Probably because Bush’s views look quite liberal when compared to the things that these candidates are spouting forth.  (Please note:  I am NOT saying that Bush is a liberal.  I am saying he LOOKS quite liberal compared to the GOP candidates).

Recently Santorum and Romney have argued against No Child Left Behind.  Both men think it is an awful idea and are doing everything they can to separate from it.  (Santorum even voted for it).  Bush, of course, is the president who put this policy into place.

Both Santorum and Romney are opposed to government bailouts.  Bush, of course, is responsible for these bailouts.  In fact, he and Obama basically saved the auto industry through these bailouts.

Bush had a liberal immigration plan that allowed undocumented workers a path to citizenship without having to turn home.  Santorum and Romney want to build walls.

Bush was known for his massive public spending.  The GOP candidates want to scale back active government.

Interesting.  Bush looks better and better everyday.

Barack Obama: "The Most Prolific Tax Cutter in Recent History"

Eleanor Clift calls Barack Obama “the silent tax cutter.”  According to her recent article at The Daily Beast, Obama’s tax cuts have been larger than George W. Bush in his first term.  Here is a taste:

The one thing most voters know about President Obama is that he wants to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Republicans have blocked him at every turn, but he continues to talk about changing public policy so that billionaires pay more.
Obama has invested so much time demonizing the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich that he has obscured the true narrative of his presidency. Class-war rhetoric aside, Obama is one of the most prolific tax cutters in recent history, with a record that puts him squarely alongside that of George W. Bush.
Crunching the numbers at the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, analyst Michael Linden found that if one compares the cost of tax cuts in just the first four years of Bush’s term (2001–04) to the first four years of Obama’s (2009–12), Obama’s tax cuts are bigger. The value of the Bush tax cuts were about $475 billion in those first four years, or about 1.1 percent of GDP. Obama’s total about $1 trillion, or 1.6 percent of GDP. 

Obama has cut taxes to lower levels than Bush did, says Linden. This is because, of course, Obama thus far has extended all of the Bush tax cuts and then cut taxes on top of that. His original stimulus bill in 2009 had $290 billion in Making Work Pay tax cuts. His speech Thursday night before Congress advocated for another $175 billion in payroll tax cuts, which come on top of $110 billion from last December’s budget deal. Speeded-up expensing for business adds another $10 billion or so.

Read the rest here

Zelizer: "It’s Tea Party vs. Bush AND Obama

Julian Zelizer reminds us that the Tea Party is both anti-Obama and anti-Bush. 

The Tea Party’s gripes with the former presidential administration include:

1. Bush’s bailout of Wall Street investment banks.

2. The Bush administration’s willingness to work within the Washington political system to advance their objectives.

3. Bush’s “multicultural vision,” which included his moderate views on immigration and his desire to bring Hispanics into the Republican Party.

George W. Bush and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gustav Niebuhr is reporting that George W. Bush is reading Eric Metaxas’s new biography of German theologian and anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  (I saw Laura Bush mention this over the weekend during an interview on Book TV).

Niebuhr is not surprised that Bush is reading or that he is reading about Bonhoeffer.  He does wonder, however, what Bush is “getting from his reading.”  Niebuhr asks: “Does Bonhoeffer challenge, confirm or add to the former president’s understanding of Christianity?”  He continues:

Which Bonhoeffer is George W. Bush encountering? As noted, with his dedicated focus on Christ, Bonhoeffer has long appealed to people who lean toward the theologically conservative, especially American evangelicals. His commitment to social ministry inspires many ranks of more liberal admirers. And Bonhoeffer’s clear status of an a man of action, who put all at risk to defy Hitler–well, who doesn’t find that moving?

I guess I want to know what Bush does next. Will he move on to Bonhoeffer’s own works, including his prison writings? Will he be so intrigued as to make a trip to the library to check out Eberhard Bethge’s comprehensive biography of Bonhoeffer, re-published a decade ago by Fortress Press? Talk about going to the source! Bethge was a student of Bonhoeffer and later married the theologian’s niece.

Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography clocks in at somewhere under 1,100 pages. As an ex-president, Bush must have some time on his hands.

Wallis: Obama Needs to Follow Bush on HIV/AIDS

Over at the CNN Religion Blog, Jim Wallis calls upon Barack Obama to follow the example of George W. Bush and do something about the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa. He writes:

It was not that long ago faith leaders and millions of activists organized across the globe to press President George W. Bush to respond to the AIDS pandemic and fund solutions to end extreme global poverty.

The result of bold American leadership led to nothing short of a historic wave of success. Today, nearly four million Africans are on life saving HIV/AIDS medicines, up from 50,000 in 2002. President Bush’s legacy in the fight against global AIDS is strong, but much more needs to be done.

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to continue that leadership. But today, his promise has yet to be kept. Fortunately, it’s not too late for him to do so…

Maybe Obama can learn a thing or two from the so-called “compassionate conservatives.”

Presidents Who Were Best-Selling Authors

With the arrival of George W. Bush’s book Decision Points due out in November, Douglass K. Daniel examines which presidents have had their books make the New York Times best-seller lists.

According to Daniel’s article, Eisenhower and Obama published best-sellers before they became president. Carter and Clinton published best-sellers after they were president. And JFK and Reagan hit the best-seller list after they died. Truman, LBJ, Ford, and Bush Sr. all wrote books that did not reach best-seller status.