William Leuchtenburg says historians and the media have been too hard on Obama

Historians in the News
tags: Obama



“How will historians rate Barack Obama’s presidency?”

Following up my conversation last week with historian William Leuchtenburg about the challenges Hillary Clinton faces in her campaign, I wanted him to begin to put Obama in historical perspective, a challenging task for any one, but maybe not unfair to someone whose latest book, “The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton,” will be out in early December.

Leuchtenburg did not shy away from the question.

“I have been thinking a lot about that. As the presidency of Barack Obama winds down, I am getting phone calls.”

Over the Christmas holidays in New York, a high official at Morgan Stanley “in the midst of a pleasant social occasion suddenly turned to me and asked me what are the three things that Barack Obama will be remembered for. I hardly had three seconds to think about it. But the three things I said were:

“First, he brought the country out of the deep economic chaos that he inherited from the second George Bush.

“Second, in a very perilous world situation, he made no major blunders. He made no commitments overseas with the kind of disastrous results that the second George Bush had in Iraq.

“And third, he extended the great benefits of health insurance to millions of Americans who weren’t covered.

“That’s not at all a bad record. It’s not the kind of record that, say, Franklin Roosevelt had. But then he never had the opportunity to achieve that, in part because the Republican opposition in Congress was so relentless. The temperament of the country is not for huge involvement by the federal government in civic affairs.”

I asked him where Obama would fit in the ranking of earlier presidents.

“He is going to fit into the middling range. Nobody is going to regard him as a great or near great president.

“What I’m struck by whenever I talk to fellow historians and to friends who are well-informed, most of them enthusiastic Democrats, all of whom voted for Obama both times, is a sense of disappointment.

“I remember the extraordinary excitement there was after his speech at Grant Park after the election, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s granddaughter had asked me to speak that week, maybe four days after the election, at Roosevelt University in Chicago. I remember walking down Michigan Avenue. You could just sense everyone was feeling the Obama phrase, ‘change we can believe in.’

“The criticism I am hearing is much too harsh. Particularly, I think in the editorial pages of The Washington Post that much of the criticism has been extraordinarily severe and unjustified.” ...




comments powered by Disqus