Is Obama History?Historians in the News
There were, by my count, five sessions on President Obama at last week's annual meeting of the American Historical Association. I caught two of them, listening to a half-dozen scholars propound on Obama and his policies. What struck me is that nearly every criticism of the president -- and there were plenty -- was followed by a caveat. He hasn't had enough time in office. He's had to deal with a terrible economy. The health care battle has overwhelmed the rest of his domestic agenda. And so forth....
One session was titled "What Has Obama Learned from History?" though it could have been called "What Obama Should Learn from History." Historians had no shortage of advice for the president. Jason Scott Smith, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, argued that President Obama could learn the following lesson from FDR: Be bold. The most controversial policies can turn out to be the most popular, he said. Alice O'Connor, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, praised the president for his appreciation of history, but said his administration was "strikingly deferential to the entrenched interests it's trying to reform."
On the foreign policy side, Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said Obama had more or less continued the Bush administration's war on terror, while Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, a professor of foreign relations at San Diego State University, thought the president had yet to come up with a coherent foreign policy.
A session put on by Historians Against the War was called "Obama's Troubling First Year: What Went Wrong, and What Can Historians Do About It?" But even with that unfavorable title, there was still a desire to cut Obama some slack. Margaret Power, an associate professor of history at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said it was up to historians and other citizens, not Obama, to lead a reform movement. And Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said there was a 30-percent chance that Obama's policies would shift to the left after the health care bill passed.
Hope springs eternal, or at least for a little while longer.
comments powered by Disqus
- ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias
- New Yorker profiles activist who's drawing attention to lynchings
- Wisconsin GOP senator wants to replace history professors with Ken Burns videos
- UT removes Confederate inscription that it previously said would stay
- The man behind the Smithsonian’s new African-American history museum
- Some Ohio University professors ditch the textbooks, and the prices
- Renowned Israeli Holocaust Historian: ‘If I Were a British Jew, I’d Be Worried’
- Heather Ann Thompson pries loose the long-kept secrets of Attica in her new book
- Lonnie Bunch remembers his first day on the job as director of the new black history museum
- Speaker Ryan loves pseudo-historian David Barton