6:00 AM, Feb 20, 2015 • By JAY COST
It is said that history is written by the victors. Maybe so, but in the United States over the last century, history has largely been written by the liberals. This inevitably leads to bias, which inevitably operates on even the most impartial of minds. While most historians try to be fair and judicious, the fact that the overwhelming majority of them are on the left generates an inexorable tilt to the American historical narrative.
It is often subtle, but it is there -- for instance in the different ways that presidents are remembered, depending on their politics. Richard Nixon is roundly and regularly assailed for the appearance of impropriety in the Checkers Scandal. Meanwhile, LBJ has basically been forgiven for potentially cheating on his taxes. And virtually nobody remembers that FDR probably called off the IRS to protect Johnson, his loyal protégé. The same FDR vigorously pursued a tax fraud case against Andrew Mellon, whose only ostensible misdeed was serving as treasury secretary for the preceding, Republican administrations.
This tilt is similarly evident in rankings of American presidents. Take this 2010 poll of historians by Siena College. If FDR, Truman, and Wilson had been conservative or Republican, a lot of their sins -- on corruption, on race, on violating property and civil rights -- would weigh much more heavily upon them. By the same token, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Gerald Ford are underestimated -- likely because they refused to grow the national leviathan at the “appropriate” pace.
In other words, bias often gets down to which facts are emphasized and which are downplayed, or ignored altogether.
And bias is not exclusive to presidential history. As I point out in my new book, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, the expansion of the state is largely celebrated by (mostly liberal) historians, yet its vices tend to be ignored.
Most mainstream historians celebrate myriad government expansions as good, right, and utterly necessary. The more power that is centralized in Washington, D.C., especially in the office of the president, the better. What I have found, however, is that those “wondrous” moments of state expansion are often followed … several years down the road, of course … by a phenomenon that gets left out of the mainstream story: political corruption.
It is the liberal cocoon that is wrapped around American history. And it is not spun through intentional deceit, nor are facts distorted. It is the inevitable bias of human beings to value certain facts over other facts. That is how we all work; liberals are no exception.
A recent example of this tendency is found in an essay in the New Yorker by Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, describing the passage of Medicare. In writing my book, I had occasion to study Medicare in some detail, and I can aver that each of Zelizer’s points is factually correct. It is his frame with which I disagree, because certain facts are excluded in service of that narrative.
Zelizer’s telling of Medicare’s enactment is fairly conventional. If you’ve read anything about the history of the program, you’ll know the story, which often reads like one of the fairy tales I read to my little boy. In the 1940s, good liberals were acutely concerned about providing health care through the federal government. Yet time and again they were thwarted by bad conservatives and selfish interest groups like the American Medical Association (AMA). Poor Harry Truman and John Kennedy wanted to make it happen, but they just couldn’t pull it off. Enter LBJ. With loads of grit and plenty of determination -- leavened by just the right amount of Southern folksiness! -- LBJ finally moved the wheel of history a little closer to its final destination. Huzzah!
Two important points are often left out of the story.
It was once the Israeli left that enraged American presidents. 11:05 AM, Feb 13, 2015 • By RAFAEL MEDOFF
Benjamin Netanyahu is not the first Israeli prime minister to find himself at odds with Washington. In fact, several prime ministers from the Labor Party, Netanyahu's traditional rival, have suffered the wrath of an angry American president.
10:32 AM, Feb 7, 2015 • By CITA STELZER
Sir Martin’s passing was a sad day for who call ourselves Churchillians. His 8-volume biography of Sir Winston Churchill and the Companion volumes are the Everest of all biographies, and an indispensable source for anyone interested in the great man’s life and achievements. That this quiet, self-effacing man found the time and energy to add to that work some 60 other books concentrating on WW2, the Holocaust and histories of the Jewish people is a source of amazement to those of us privileged to know him
9:20 AM, Feb 5, 2015 • By MICHAEL MAKOVSKY
The passing of Sir Martin Gilbert at the age of 78 marked a sad milestone. He achieved popular acclaim as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, the man whose in-depth eight-volume biography served as the gold standard reference work about the greatest statesman of the twentieth century. He also was a prolific writer of Jewish history, an observer of world events, and an author of many atlases.
10:23 AM, Oct 2, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Speaking at a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors event last night, Hillary Clinton decided to talk about Alexis de Tocqueville. The problem? She got it wrong -- by about a hundred years.
The lessons of World War I Aug 11, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 45 • By DAVID ADESNIK
The United States entered the Great War with its eyes wide open. The mechanical slaughter in Europe had already left millions dead. In the trenches, men had to contend with lice, rats, sickness, mud, extreme temperatures, human waste, rotting corpses, and boredom as well as the threats of poison gas, explosive shells, and being buried alive. In 1914, Europe went to war with only the dimmest awareness of the horrors to come. Yet Congress voted overwhelmingly for a declaration of war in the absence of any direct threat to U.S.
6:15 AM, Jun 23, 2014 • By PAUL WOLFOWITZ
The death of Fouad Ajami this weekend, at the age of 68, deprived this country and the world of a uniquely powerful voice – one that is at the same time both Arab and American – that could have helped guide us, as he has in the past, through the hazards and complications of his native Middle East.
Erich Auerbach and the understanding of literature. Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
T.S. Eliot thought that the first requisite for being a literary critic is to be very intelligent. The second, I should say, is to have a well-stocked mind, which means having knowledge of literatures and literary traditions other than that into which one was born; possessing several languages; and acquiring a more than nodding acquaintance with history, philosophy, and theology—to be, in brief, learned. To be both highly intelligent and learned is not all that common. Eliot claimed for himself—and this by implication, for he was a modest man—only the former.
9:09 PM, Feb 25, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
During a celebration of African-American History Month, Vice President Joe Biden said, "I may be a white boy, but I can jump." The comments were made at Biden's home, the Naval Observatory.
Via the pool report:
2:30 PM, Feb 8, 2014 • By ALGIS VALIUNAS
Mr. Vladimir Putin intends that the current Olympic games be forever stamped with his glory. Sochi is being protected by a “Ring of Steel.” Thus has spoken Russia’s current Man of Steel, who sees himself as the rightful descendant of the original, although Mr.
The president takes an unwarranted shot at art history.
12:22 PM, Jan 31, 2014 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
President Obama traveled to Wisconsin yesterday and engaged in a tasteless bit of anti-intellectualism.
3:21 PM, Jan 11, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Ariel Sharon—a man whose deeds as soldier, general, cabinet minister, and prime minister were decisive in the history of modern Israel, a soldier-statesman of true historical significance, a larger-than-life figure whose like we're unlikely to see again—dies, and Barack Obama issues a statement that would be appropriate if one were recognizing the death of a pedestrian functionary who had routinely served as the insignificant leader of a random country.
Remember, remember the sixteenth of December.Dec 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 14 • By RICHARD SAMUELSON
Two hundred and forty years ago this month, a gang of Bostonians dressed as Indians boarded the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver and dumped 90,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. That fateful action on December 16, 1773, and Parliament’s inflammatory response—closing the Port of Boston, altering the colony’s charter, radically limiting popular government in Massachusetts, allowing the quartering of troops in private houses, among other arbitrary measures—precipitated the American Revolution.