Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Judgment of History or Historians?

George Mason University's History News Network seems to have gone on a binge of Bush-bashing (inducing a fit of alliteration on my own part), led by Robert McElvaine's latest blog post. However, before the rest of us break out any champagne, we would do well to examine just what the data points really are. The only really "solid" item is the following:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

The rest of the data is unscientific, and McElvaine says so explicitly. Under that disclaimer, however, he presents us with two rather impressive-sounding paragraphs:

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history. Another 35 percent of the historians surveyed rated the Bush presidency in the 31st to 41st category, while only four of the 109 respondents ranked the current presidency as even among the top two-thirds of American administrations.

So what, if anything, are we to make of these data? At the very least we should note that this article was posted on April 1, and I suspect that historians are as capable of a good joke as any other specialist community. However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that are the results reported in the piece are legitimate.

Under that assumption we need to address an extremely important fundamental question: How do all of those people who did vote for Bush (probably twice) feel about having brought "an evil incompetent venal traitorous half-wit" (these being the words that Huffington Post reader LivingStardust submitted in a comment when Huffington Post reported the History News Network results) into office (particularly the ones who now no longer approve of him); and how will those feelings impact what they do on Election Day? (Perhaps, given the faith-based orientation of the President, I should not have used the adjective "fundamental!") No one ever got elected by telling voters that they had made a monstrous mistake. (Carter got into enough trouble just by cautioning them about energy consumption!) It is nice to have the proposition that we are in a colossal mess affirmed; but, now that we are in it, what is the general electorate going to do about it?

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