Breaking Glass

Historians in Blunderland

The academy is in an even worse plight than you may imagine.  Every so often, surveys reveal just how far America’s professors are out of touch with the political and cultural mainstream.  Not only do they overwhelmingly register with the Democratic Party, but most adhere to the straitest sect within that tradition, those who regard Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy as drifting perilously toward right-wing reaction.

Lately, however, a group of American historians announced a consensus on the nation’s past that is genuinely disturbing.  At the University of Louisville, the distinguished McConnell Center sponsors activities focusing on American politics and history.  This past February, the center asked 90 practicing historians to nominate the worst blunders in the history of the American presidency.  From the responses received, the center’s director compiled a list of the ten worst outrages, which historians were then asked to rank-order.  The final list received national media attention as the considered verdict of academic historians on the presidential record.

Some of the entries should occasion no surprise, and any such list is likely to include Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up and JFK’s Bay of Pigs invasion.  But the two items heading the list are strange.  The worst mistake of all, it seems, was James Buchanan’s failure to oppose...

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