Posts Tagged ‘presidential historian’















Review, “To Make Men Free,” Washington Post, October 3, 2014

Here’s a good rule of thumb for studying the history of American political parties: Forget what you know about the present. A century ago, Republicans were likely to be the country’s big-government progressives, its advocates of civil rights and social reform. Democrats were often small-government conservatives, especially in the one-party stronghold of the Solid South. The electoral map looked radically different, with a swath of blue below the Mason-Dixon line and a block of red in the Northeast. Just about the only things that have stayed the same are the party names: Democrat vs. Republican, locked in eternal electoral combat. In “To Make Men Free,” Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson sets out to tell half of the story about how we got from there to here. “The journey,” she notes dryly, “has not been straightforward.” Read the rest....

“Unanswered Questions about Watergate,” Slate, April 22, 2013

The title of Robert Redford’s new documentary, which aired on the Discovery Channel last night, is All the President’s Men Revisited. At times, it seems more like All the President’s Men Repeated. Though created to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Watergate, the first half of the film contains little that could not be found in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 political thriller starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman. You know the story: A pair of scrappy young reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stick to their guns when nobody else will, and their reporting helps to bring down a president. This is, to be sure, a terrific story. No matter how many times you’ve heard it before, there is something gripping about watching Nixon’s slow, painful descent into national disgrace. Read the rest....


“He Was No Wilsonian,” New York Times Book Review, December 13, 2009

When historians rank the American presidents, Woodrow Wilson almost always secures a place in the top 10. This seems to be an honor accorded successful wartime leaders; in the last C-Span Presidents Day poll, the highest three spots belonged to Lincoln, Washington and Franklin Roosevelt, two war presidents and a general. Yet compared with the reputations of other members of that august pantheon, Wilson’s lags far behind. George W. Bush was described as “Wilsonian” after 9/11, but that was hardly meant as a compliment. Barack Obama, like Wilson a scholar, political neophyte and Nobel Peace Prize winner, prefers to be compared to Lincoln and the second Roosevelt, or even to Truman and Reagan — practically any other member of the top ranks. Today, the only major public figure who seems to be interested in Wilson is the Fox News host Glenn Beck, who traces the roots of our current “socialist” predicament back to the dark era of Wilsonian income taxes, war propaganda and obscure monetary symbols. Read the rest....

“American Macho,” New York Times Book Review, June 14, 2009

On March 11, 2003, about a week ­before President George W. Bush began bombing Iraq, the cultural historian Jackson Lears published an Op-Ed article in The New York Times pleading for sanity. He sensed that it was already too late, and suggested that war opponents might be “fingering a rabbit’s foot from time to time.” As a historian, however, Lears couldn’t help asking when the “regenerative” impulse to seek national glory through war first took root. The result is “Rebirth of a Nation,” a fascinating cultural history that locates the origins of Bush-era belligerence in the anxieties and modernizing impulses of the late 19th century. Read the rest....

“Our First Black President?” New York Times Magazine, April 6, 2008

Will Americans vote for a black president? If the notorious historian William Estabrook Chancellor was right, we already did. In the early 1920s, Chancellor helped assemble a controversial biographical portrait accusing President Warren Harding of covering up his family’s “colored” past. According to the family tree Chancellor created, Harding was actually the great-grandson of a black woman. Under the one-drop rule of American race relations, Chancellor claimed, the country had inadvertently elected its “first Negro president.” Read the rest....