Thursday, February 14, 2008

Historians for Obama

The 2008 presidential race is going more than full speed ahead for Barack Obama. Recent polls are showing him ahead of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, for the party's nomination. In several of the last primaries, Obama has received more votes than McCain and Huckabee combined. Anyway, I realize that this is not a political blog, nor do I wish to declare my allegiance for Obama. I do, however, want to bring to your attention something very interesting regarding Barack Obama and a number of famous early American historians.

Just this past month, a group of very famous and influential historians (many of whom are historians of the American Revolution or colonial America) banned together in support of Barack Obama's presidency. Among these early American historians are Joyce Appleby, David Blight, Edward Blum, Bruce Chadwick, Joseph Ellis, David Gellman, Steven Lawson, James McPherson, Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs, and Laurel Ulrich. In total, there are well over 100 prominant historians that have joined in support for Obama (for the full list of historians click here).

Their reasons for supporting Obama range from his stance on the war in Iraq to Bush's failed foriegn policy (which they claim is the worst since the Vietnam War). On their website is written the following:

We endorse Barack Obama for president because we think he is the candidate best able to address and start to solve these profound problems. As historians, we understand that no single individual, even a president, leads alone or outside a thick web of context. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend during the Civil War, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

However, a president can alter the mood of the nation, making changes possible that once seemed improbable. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the nation united; Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Americans to embrace Social Security and more democratic workplaces; John F. Kennedy advanced civil rights and an anti-poverty program.

Barack Obama has the potential to be that kind of president. He has the varied background of a global citizen: his father was African, his stepfather Indonesian, his mother worked in the civil rights movement, and he spent several years of his childhood overseas. As an adult, he has been a community organizer, a law professor, and a successful politician - both at the state and national level. These experiences have given him an acute awareness of the inequalities of race and class, while also equipping him to speak beyond them.

Obama's platform is ambitious, yet sensible. He calls for negotiating the abolition of nuclear weapons, providing universal and affordable health insurance, combatting poverty by adding resources and discouraging destructive habits, investing in renewable energy sources, and engaging with unfriendly nations to ease conflicts that could otherwise lead to war. He takes more forthright stands on these issues than do his major Democratic competitors. But it is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack. He is a gifted writer and orator who speaks forcefully but without animus. Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness - or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. Like Kennedy, he also inspires young people who see him as a great exception in a political world that seems mired in cynicism and corruption.

I'm sure that very few of us would argue that history serves as a wonderful barometer of the future. Understanding one's past is paramount in being able to prepare for the future. Keeping this all in mind, I want to pose a question: to what degree should historians get involved in politics? Is it a mistake for historians to band together in support of one candidate? After all, Obama could turn out to be a complete flop. One only needs to remember Franklin Pierce, who was considered by most "experts" to be the solution to the slavery/succession crisis. I'm not saying that historians (like any other person) do not have the right to vote. Of course they do. What I am asking is whether or not you think they should unite in support of a candidate.

Your thoughts.


Lindsey Shuman said...

I'm not surprised that the majority of historians are for Obama, nor do I think that it is a bad thing for them to come together for such a purpose. Other organizations do it all the time...why not historians?

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