Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I thought of that recently in seeing some of the media pushback against the publicity generated by the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas this week. Thoreau’s quote is as true as ever about the state of contemporary philosophy, but it is also true about the state of historical inquiry: these days we have professors of history more than historians.
The professoriate is a class with its own interests and its own agenda, an agenda that largely overlaps with that pursued by the majority of our lamestream media. That agenda does not include the practice of history in the abstract, insofar as that involves presenting the evidence, weighing the options, employing reason, and drawing conclusions. To most professors of history and folks in the media these days, history is only useful insofar as it serves their left-wing agenda. Hence their resistance to the displays in the Bush library.
Consider this article from Yahoo! News:
DALLAS—As former President George W. Bush prepares to officially open his presidential library on Thursday, a question arises as it has for his predecessors: How objective will it be about his time in the White House?
Bush left office five years ago as one of the most unpopular presidents in history, his poll numbers weighed down by public discontent over his handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and worries about the economy.
But the former president wanted to take the controversies about his presidency head-on, say several former aides who worked closely with him on the library. One way of addressing the challenge is an interactive exhibit allowing visitors to see what it was like for him to make decisions as leader of the free world. People will hear information Bush was given by aides, then be asked to make their own choices. Afterward, the former president’s image will appear on a screen to explain what decision he ultimately made and why.
“He really wants people to go in there and get a sense of what it was like to be president during that time and to use that to make an informed decision about his presidency,” said Karen Hughes, a longtime Bush adviser.
In some respects, the article strives to be slightly more balanced than I’m giving it credit for being, since it does point out controversies over the presentation of material in both the Clinton library and the LBJ library, as well, but I think it is materially different, too, in that Bush is trying to present the information that influenced his decisions and both the media and some so-called historians are crying foul over the fact that he is doing so.
One reason they don’t want Bush to tell his version of the story is that as the nightmare that is the Obama administration continues to develop, Bush is regaining popularity. While I don’t often share Dan’s enthusiasm for Peggy Noonan’s writings, I was intrigued to see her recognizing the depth of the differences between the two men in her column this week where she wrote:
But to the point. Mr. Obama was elected because he wasn’t Bush.
Mr. Bush is popular now because he’s not Obama.
The wheel turns, doesn’t it?
Here’s a hunch: The day of the opening of the Bush library was the day Obama fatigue became apparent as a fact of America’s political life.
And she isn’t the only one. Writing for Politico this week, Keith Koffler complained about “Obama’s hubris problem,” prompting Neo-Neocon to ask the question that is on many of our minds: “And he thinks it’s only a second-term phenomenon? Where has he been, on planet Xenon?”
It seems like the media is unhappy this week because Bush is getting a fresh chance to tell his story independent of their filter, whereas the public is increasingly growing tired of the combination of arrogance, divisiveness, imperiousness, incompetence, and the need to politicize everything for which President Obama is increasingly known.
Perhaps, to modify Noonan a bit, the opening of the Bush library was uncomfortable for many of his admirers because, in seeing all five living presidents together again, the public got a chance to see them and to size them up, and as Joseph Curl wrote in the Washington Times W. easily outclassed Obama.