September 11, 2012

"Instead of helping resolve when, how, and where [presidential] popularity should matter, Merry treats the whole matter as sport..."

"... a game in which 'the rules … can be changed from time to time.' In a time of purported national decline, the last thing we need when exploring statesmanship is another game. Where They Stand provides a diverting and occasionally enlightening tour through the legacies of dozens of presidents. But those seeking to chart a course between the argument for polarization-as-greatness and the pursuit of shallow popularity will be left at square one."

The conclusion of a TNR book review by Michael Signer. The book is: "Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians," by Robert W. Merry. (I love that the man named "Merry" is inclined to make a game of it, and the man name "Signer" would like something specific to endorse.)

7 comments:

William said...

As Nixon glumly observed, history is not written by the victors, but by the liberals. Liberal historians seem to have gotten a lot of things wrong, even judging them by their own standards....Historians seem unwilling to survey and analyze the past mistakes of historians. How could Schlesinger write a two volume history of the Jackson Presidency and fail to mention the Trail of Tears? The Federalists were the party of abolitionists, and the Jeffersonians the party of chattel slavery. Until recently, this was seldom mentioned in discussions of Jefferson's genius and Hamilton's elitism. Are similar mistakes being made in their analysis of more contemporary poliiticians?.....It wasn't too long ago that Woodrow Wilson had a greater reputation than TR. Wilson now gets demerits for being a militant segregationist, but this formerly was just not mentioned in discussions of his Presidency. It should also be noted that he tried to fix the borders of the known world while undergoing organic mental changes. The Senate rejected his treaties not solely because of Republican isolationism but because his treaties committed the United States to guarantee the territorial integrity of Armenia......It does seem that the long arc of history does seem to bend to the favor of conservatives, but you have to give the historians an extra hundred years to catch on. People of imagination and literary flair who devote years of their lives to writing a biography will always be more inclined to choose a figure of ideals, movement, and conflict over a more sedate manager. Perhaps the greatest Presidents are the most boring ones. Coolidge, Eisenhower, McKinley. There's not much there to stir the imagination, but those Presidents provided peace and comfort to the historians of their era while they did their research on the great presidents.

Rabel said...

One hour and fifteen minutes after the post goes up William breaks the ice.

Unfortunately, TLDR.

Chip S. said...

I love that the man named "Merry" is inclined to make a game of it...

He probably comes from a long line of pranksters.

Christopher in MA said...

I saw the book in the library yesterday and flipped through it. When it came to Dubya, Merry led off with hack historian Sean Wilentz's shriek that Bush would be remembered as the worst president of all, and Merry - though he tried to pretend he was reluctant and not coming to a fast conclusion - endorsed the view.

Worse than Buchanan? Or Pierce? And this only four years after he left office? Thank you, Mr. Merry, for helping me save my money for another, better book.

creeley23 said...

Worse than Buchanan? Or Pierce? And this only four years after he left office? Thank you, Mr. Merry, for helping me save my money for another, better book.

I've never understood how professional historians -- or anyone else for that matter -- could put themselves on record saying that Bush was the worst president in history before the man had even left office.

Yet many did and it struck me as proof that these people were viciously, irrationally partisan. For the historians I would include the adverb: "shamefully."

William said...

It is said that history is prophecy looking backwards. At any rate, historians narrate the past with about the same amount of accuracy as journalists narrate the present.

Luke Lea said...

Let's see. There's Lincoln at the top, W at the bottom, and everybody else in between.