Posted under: American history
Sean Wilentz has another very provocative analysis of Barack Obama in the context of the last seventy-five years of Democratic Presidents at Newsweek. Wilentz is a Bill and Hillary Clinton partisan–those of you over the age of thirty may remember his passionate, and even over-the-top denunciation of the impeachment of Bill Clinton–so keep in mind that he most certainly didn’t drink the Kool-Aid toss back the Jello Shots during the primary. (Wilentz was practically frothing at the mouth in his December 8, 1998 congressional testimony–”history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness”–but he was absolutely right about how it would look in the cold light of history. And we didn’t need to wait more than a few years to see that more clearly, now did we?) Go read the whole thing–it’s good, although I think he lets some of his fave presidents like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson off the hook for the bad things they did–little things like dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution! (I’m not wild about his love for Andrew Jackson either, to say the least, but Wilentz is a romantic populist through and through…)
But, to the matter at hand: Wilentz sees parallels between Obama’s campaign and another, more recent, example in presidential history:
As Republican strategists have begun to notice with delight, Obama’s liberal alternative to the post-Bush GOP to date has much in common with Carter’s post-Watergate liberalism. Rejecting “politics as usual,” attacking “Washington” as the problem, promising to heal the breaches and hurts caused by partisan political polarization, pledging to break the grip that lobbyists and special interests hold over the national government, wearing his Christian faith on his sleeve as a key to his mind, heart and soul—in all of these ways, Obama resembles Jimmy Carter more than he does any other Democratic president in living memory.
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In the absence of a compelling record, set speeches, even with the most stirring words, will not resolve these matters. And until he resolves them, Obama will remain the most unformed candidate in the modern history of presidential politics.
Now, this is really weird, but in a private communication a few months ago, Historiann commenter FratGuy quipped about Obama: “What we need is another L.B.J., and what we’re getting with this guy is another Jimmy Carter.” This raises an interesting question, FratGuy: are you prizewinning Princeton historian Sean Wilentz? Does your job afford you endless hours to post pseudonymously on random blogs? My readership demands answers! And I’m sure they’ll let you know what they think about your latest essay on this election in the coments below…