« The dogs that stopped barking | Main | Summers to the rescue »

History: I guess it really is bunk

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday November 27, 2007 08:40 PM

Stop the presses. A group of "prominent historians" have endorsed the world-historical Barack Obama. A friend of mine, whose unenviable job it is to keep his finger on the psychic pulse of Academe, sent me this item from Inside Higher Education (and thank God I'm now outside it):
... [A] group of prominent historians on Monday issued a joint endorsement of Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. The endorsement, released through the History News Network, was organized by Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University, and Ralph E. Luker....The scholars who signed included... other A-list scholars in the field....

[Obama] has raised far more money from academics than have other candidates and he has plenty of academic connections himself — he taught at the University of Chicago law school and his wife, Michelle, held a series of positions at the University of Chicago Hospitals ....

One professor who was approached and who did not sign on is Maurice Isserman.... “Edwards is the most appealing candidate at the moment,” Isserman wrote. “It’s not just the vacuous ‘new generation’ rhetoric emanating from the Obama camp that disturbs me — worse is his flirtation with the notion of a ‘Social Security crisis.’ Let’s leave the Republican talking points to the Republicans for a change. Of course, I’d take him in a heartbeat over Hillary, just as (I suspect) I will be taking Hillary The Inevitable in a nano-second over whichever scary guy the Republicans finally go with.”

Another historian who passed, Casey N. Blake of Columbia University, said... “While I am likely to vote for Obama in the New York primary, I am reluctant to endorse any candidate in my professional capacity as a historian.”

I think we all owe Professor Casey a huge debt of gratitude for sparing us the crushing weight of his "professional capacity as a historian," as we grope our benighted, uncredentialled way toward the voting booth. On the other hand, Isserman's banal lesser-evillism tends to diminish the prestige of even a "prominent" historian's opinion.

Candor obliges me to add that Obama's connections with the University Of Chicago would certainly suffice to make him anathema to me, if he hadn't already been anathema to me.

If you're a mean-spirited person, you'll want to read the "prominent historians'" Obamaphile manifesto:


... [A] president can alter the mood of the nation, making changes possible that once seemed improbable. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the nation united; Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Americans to embrace Social Security and more democratic workplaces; John F. Kennedy advanced civil rights and an anti-poverty program.
JFK did all that, guys? Funny, I thought that was LBJ. But that's the difference between an amateur, like me, and a "prominent" historian, I guess. Their Prominences continue:
Barack Obama has the potential to be that kind of president....
... meaning, of course, a JFK kind of president. Man, that's all we need, isn't it? Another fuckin' JFK: He of the "missile gap," the Bay of Pigs, and, last but certainly not least, Vietnam.

Michael Kazin, the point man for this claque of academic Obama groupies, has quite a history himself. I have his life of W J Bryan on a shelf somewhere -- tried reading it, and found it so platitudinous and snoozeworthy that I put it on the list of books to be read only while suffering from the most desperate insomnia. But I kinda thought I remembered him, back in '03, playing a very equivocal role in the runup to the Big 'Raq Attack, and a wee bit of Googling told me my memory isn't completely shot:


[In a Washington Post op-ed] Kazin inexplicably makes some broad generalizations about the left that exist only in the fantasies of Bill O'Reilly and his fans. Sadly, in recent months, we've grown accustomed to Kazin's crowd creating straw men on the left so that they can easily knock them down and look reasonable in the eyes of the major media.

Early in his article, Kazin, who sits on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, says "no one in the current peace movement has put forth a moral vision that might unite and sustain it beyond the precipice of war."

Alas, the Post piece seems to have fallen into the Memory Hole; at an rate I can't find it.

Kazin is perhaps best known for trashing Howard Zinn. I never found Zinn's work terribly compelling myself, but after reading Kazin's jeremiad against him, I'm ready to swear an oath of blood-brotherhood with the man. This is from Dissent magazine, subject of a famous Woody Allen joke:


... most Populists cheered Bryan and voted for him because he shared their enemies and their vision of a producers' republic. Unlike Zinn, they grasped the dilemma of third parties in the American electoral system, which Richard Hofstadter likened to honeybees, "once they have stung, they die." And to bewail the fact that liberal Democrats saw an advantage to supporting rights for unions and minorities is a stunning feat of historical naiveté. Short of revolution, a strategic alliance with one element of "the Establishment" is the only way social movements ever make lasting changes in law and public policy.

Zinn's conception of American elites is akin to the medieval church's image of the Devil.

I'm working on a theory that any time a liberal like Kazin accuses you of having found a substitute for religion, then you're on the right track. But more of that anon.

Comments (9)


oh bama

the spade of jacks

or is he

the jack of spades

tired of gliberal rue process
i turn
to belted gospel

the legendary
the needle sharp
zinn fizz
is in point
of facticle
as flat as a puddle
and as fraudulent
as russian poly-water


Why is Zinn unconvincing, flat, and fraudulent?


OP will have to account for his own adjectives. What I said was "uncompelling," I think.

Why? Hmmm. Been a while and I'm on the road and away from my books, but IIRC Zinn's big book struck me as rather schematic and broad-brush. Accurate as far as it went, but not very illuminating if you already knew that Andrew Carnegie was a filthy sonofabitch.

On the other hand, maybe it would be helpful to people who have not yet cleared their mental attic of the plaster pieties of conventional American history.

Kazin's attack on Zinn will certainly send me back to give the latter a second chance.


flat ??
at best
zinn is a pleasing colorist
but certainly
no bold figurist

very sure of his righteousness
but where's the depth
i hear rapsody
not invention

to my knowledge
he has added nothing new
or better
to the class war chest

crafty and lime lighting
he is
turns of phrase
and good timing
where one ought to find
scholarship ....????

fraudulent ??

in this he's far from alone
one notices
that crum ..blum

he conjures nothing
of use
at least nothing first hand
and even then
not better found else where

he has no answers
he discovers
no underlying causes
only surface results
and the inter play of good and bad souls

did we need to know what we find in him

like most snake oil
his has a mild intoxicant
but on a higher plane
as a gentle agitator
he's no chomsky
or for that matter
pete seeger either

jonathan clark jimson:

"people who have not yet cleared their mental attic of the plaster pieties of conventional American history. "

i resemble that remark father smiff

better my plaster yankee pieties
my papist friends
with their
secret porno vault

the dirty vatican
of most catholic minds


"...Another fuckin' JFK: He of the 'missile gap,'

He was naive about that but wised up eventually.

"...the Bay of Pigs, "

More Allen Dulles' brainchild, which is why JFK sacked him as CIA Director.

"and, last but certainly not least, Vietnam."

Funny, I thought that was mostly LBJ also.

I agree that Obama has that JFK vibe, but my impression is more like as in...Dealey Plaza.
As in the powers that be will perceive him as a threat, regardless if he really is or not, and act on that perception. But Hillary is foreordained for the Dems, and Barak will learn to like the title of Mr. Vice President.

DISSENT magazine...puh-leez--bunch of cruise-missile liberals...should be called ASSENT; that would be more accurate.

Zinn's alright in my book...a good starting point before moving onto headier stuff.

JJR: JFK put the stone-cold crush down on his old dog Diem, and listened in by radio as they whacked his ass, in 1963 real time. That shit fell cause old Ngo-D was startin to think frontin for Big Jack might not be so fresh no more. Thinkin he might dial up a peace summit with his own peeps, talkin to the monks and shit. Jackie-Jack wasn't playin that -- staight-up not havin it. Rolled the crew out on him. Check it out in Little Stevie Kinzer's book, dog. JFK was fuckin KKK, all day...No lie.



thank you for your
double shot
of argot driven antedote

----problematic as the account may be----

even the whispy germ particles
of theonce great kennedy klan myth
that have managed to survive
inside my woodstock generation's
fruitless heads

despite 40 years
adverse reality waves
washing over us
and even more
despite our pretense
of scepticism
we remain
candy cankored
agnostic class bound
regional bigots
our pill dreams
need abolishment
in particular
citizen jjr's
square root of minus one notion
that pokes like mattress jack
ever prove
dangerous to
"the powers that be "
or even seem so

Hai, op-san.

It would be nice if the Jack crack didn't get people stoned any more, but folks do crave their easy ways out.

Who knows how much truth there really was in the Diem weakening. Either way, the point's that Big Mr. K was about as ready to take the boot off Nam as the present generation of front-persons are to release I-Rack.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Tuesday November 27, 2007 08:40 PM.

The previous post in this blog was The dogs that stopped barking.

The next post in this blog is Summers to the rescue.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31