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Robert W. Merry explores American history “through the prism of presidential performance.”
(Page 3 of 3)
A man of sanctimony, Wilson personifies the “split-decision presidents”—those whose successful first terms led to reelection and whose failed second terms ensured they would not be succeeded by a president of their own party. Few presidents were more discredited in voters’ eyes at the end of their tenure.
There was William McKinley,
reacting to events that converged upon him, [leading] America into a new age of imperialism through his “splendid little war” with Spain. Neither the country nor the world would ever be the same.
Or James Buchanan:
Self-centered, devious, dishonest, and cowardly, Old Buck presided over a gathering national crisis that he failed to understand and refused to address. His politics of drift helped render the Civil War unavoidable, and history consistently has him at or near the bottom of the presidential lists.
IN GENERAL, Merry’s ratings don’t differ greatly from the informed historical consensus. At the bottom are Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce. Near the top, he creates a category for “Near Greats”—Jefferson, Jackson, Polk among them—and he reassesses those whose standings have fluctuated, like Grant and Eisenhower, frequently because of political and ideological bias. And in at least one case, that of Warren G. Harding, Merry’s approach suggests that a reevaluation, based on the opinions of his electorate, might well be in order.
Merry also suggests new ways of looking at accepted historical interpretations. For instance, he challenges a basic premise underlying Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s landmark study, The Age of Jackson:
It is not the purpose of this book to sort out arguments for or against particular presidents, but rather to trace their historical standing over time. Jackson requires special treatment for purposes of this discussion…because he represents a pivotal period in our history. Getting him wrong carries a substantial risk of misinterpreting the course of American history. And Schlesinger gets him wrong.
The problem, Merry writes, is that Schlesinger, a liberal Democrat and ardent New Dealer, “began with a mission—to show a connection between Jackson’s politics and those of his great hero, FDR.” However, writes Merry, “The progenitor of Franklin Roosevelt is not Jackson; it is Henry Clay. Jackson represents a separate political tradition, best exemplified in the twentieth century by Ronald Reagan.”
A fascinating observation, neatly redirecting a long-standing current in accepted historical thought, and typical of the informed insights that animate this strongly written and highly readable book.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?