A Princeton professor has managed to accomplish what many musicians never could: he made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone. Well, at least as an author.
In this week's cover story, "The Worst President in History?" American studies professor Sean Wilentz claims that "George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace."
Wilentz stressed that he wrote the article under today's circumstances. "I can't predict the future," he said. "I am only talking about how things stand and look today."
After being asked by the magazine to write an article assessing Bush's presidency, Wilentz found inspiration in a poll taken by the History News Network in early 2004. The poll asked historians to evaluate Bush's presidency. The majority of historians qualified Bush as a failure and possibly the worst president in history.
"I was struck at the time by how lopsided the response had been," Wilentz said.
Upon further consideration, however, he realized that historians make these judgments based on history, not politics.
"Historians in the end have to have a different imperative," he said. "Historians are not acting as voters. We are giving our historical judgment and have our colleagues to hold us accountable. There is nothing a historian wants less than to have colleagues laugh at his work. It's the severest kind of criticism historians do. We try to leave politics at the door when we make these judgments."
In light of the recent debate about the Student Bill of Rights and the rights of professors to interject their own political opinions into academic discussions, Wilentz said that he tries to keep his views out of the classroom. In his teaching, Wilentz focuses on early American history.
"It's kind of hard to think about what my views of 2006 would have to do with what I'm teaching," he said. "I don't have the opportunity to do it if I want to."
In the article, Wilentz discussed the main components that mark a successful or unsuccessful presidency and how Bush measured up in comparison to previous presidents.
These factors include credibility, domestic policy, foreign policy, military activity and presidential misconduct.
"A successful president will govern well, face enormous difficulties, unite the country and leave the country better off when he leaves office," Wilentz said. "A less successful president will also have to face enormous difficulties, but he will divide the country and leave it worse off than when he came in. On that basis I began to understand why the historians' poll came up with the results it did."
The main factor that determines whether a president is considered a success or a failure is if he faces a crisis, Wilentz said.
"If history cheats you of the chance to face a crisis, you are never going to be considered successful. It's the way it goes historically," he said. "We don't remember the presidents from placid times as well. Historians are more drawn to political leaders who were tested. At the very top and bottom you find men who were tested [as] severely as George Bush has been."
Wilentz said that so far, Bush belongs at the bottom.
"Thus far — he's not at the end of his game yet, this is a provisional report — he has missed his opportunities. It's too bad for the country."
College Republicans treasurer and Tory staff writer Wyatt Yankus '09, however, said the article's criteria for judging Bush's success are "ridiculous."
"The leadership he showed is an accomplishment that puts him well above most of past presidents," he said. "To ignore all of his accomplishments and to focus on where he has had difficulties is academically incomplete."
The article, which is already featured on Rolling Stone's website, is scheduled to hit newsstands April 21.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.