I recently wrote an article about the legacy of Barack Obama, and I
wrongly threw Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, under the
This is what I wrote:
“Historians will rate President Barack Obama as one of our nation’s greatest presidents. The question is: Was he any good? That the history profession is dominated by a liberal elite comes as no surprise. Robert Dallek, Arthur Schleschinger, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss would all rank both Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson toward the top of the list, and Ronald Reagan toward the bottom. George W. Bush will never, ever get his due for how he handled the 9/11 attacks as he passed landmark education and Medicare legislation or for his remarkable commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa.”
Mr. Beschloss wrote to correct the record: “It is in no way accurate that I would rank Ronald Reagan at the bottom of great presidents. I would direct you to, for instance, the introduction I did for the book on the RR Library (The Presidential Portfolio, PublicAffairs 2003) or the piece I wrote for Newsweek about President Reagan when he died in 2004 … Could you please correct this in print? People learn from what you write and I would not like to have this misapprehension go uncorrected for your audience.”
I probably should not have assumed the politics of Michael Beschloss. He may be a liberal and he may be a conservative, or he might just be a historian who has no political ax to grind.
And truth be told, of the historians who get quoted today, I find Beschloss to be the most compelling and most interesting (outside of David McCullough, whom I find to be absolutely fascinating).
As a historian by training (I have a master’s degree in history from Marquette, and was accepted to both the Northwestern and University of Wisconsin Ph.D. programs before deciding that I couldn’t take poverty anymore), I appreciate the cross-currents of historical scholarship.
History is used as a prism of how we see the present. Marxist historians see everything through the lens of economic determinism. Feminist historians see everything through the battle of the sexes. Gay historians think everybody was gay (including Abraham Lincoln). Great Men historians think that history was determined by Great Men, usually great white men. And social historians tend to view everything through the lens of sociology.
History was once described as “one damn thing happening after another.” And if there is one thing constant in history, it is the fact that one damn thing happens after another.
Beschloss, in his writings, has given Ronald Reagan more than his due. And I was wrong to pin the anti-Reagan label to his lapel. For that I am sorry.
On a side-note, Beschloss was raised in Flossmoor, Ill., and I was raised in Homewood, Ill. For those who don’t know, Flossmoor and Homewood will forever be joined by my high school, which is Homewood-Flossmoor (H-F), signaling the primacy of Homewood over Flossmoor, even though Flossmoor was by far the fancier side of town. And in fact, I think both Michael and I attended Flossmoor Junior High, better known as the Flossmoor Falcons.
Sadly, Flossmoor Junior High is now called Parker Junior High. But I digress.
Beschloss ended up going to some fancy East Coast boarding school and then to Andover while I went to H-F. That could explain why he is a well-known historian, and I am a well-known political hack.
In any event, Mike, please accept my apologies. Hope to see you on television soon.