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The Verdict of History


I think Rob gets credit for coining one of my favorite LG&M tags — “wingnut butchery of history” — a phrase that aptly summarizes aptly describes the subject of David Halberstam’s posthumous Vanity Fair article, “The History Boys.” (h/t Ralph Luker). [NOTE: Sorry for the ambiguity in the original sentence . . . ]

There, Halberstam takes up a question about which I’ve written with less elegance many times before, both here and elsewhere — namely, the pathetic manner in which George W. Bush and his defenders take refuge in the “verdict” (which they can only conceive as “vindication”) of history. As I wrote here a few months back, these folks

frequently cite “great” presidents whose reputations were later resuscitated, hoping perhaps to wake up one day and discover that Iraq has flourished, that the national debt has been retired, that the global Islamofascist conspiracy has bowed to the presbytery, that Katrina never happened, and that winged ponies shit golden eggs.

Halberstam’s piece is especially useful for deconstructing the Truman Analogy, by which true believers continue to find hope in Bush’s entrenched approval ratings, his “bold” doctrinal pronouncements regarding freedom, and his oversight of an inconclusive and increasingly unpopular war. The logical pattern here is familiar. Just as many contemporary conservatives profess their love for a civil rights movement they most certainly would have opposed in its day, Bush and friends genuflect at the altar of Harry, even as they behave in a way that most closely resembles Truman’s bitterest foes.

In one of the more useful sections of the article, Halberstam reminds us of one of the lowest — and least noticed — instances of Bush’s historical butchery, which was a speech he gave in Latvia in May 2005:

Hailing Latvian freedom, Bush took a side shot at Roosevelt (and, whether he meant to or not, at Churchill, supposedly his great hero) and the Yalta accords, which effectively ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets. Yalta, he said, “followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.”

. . . After some 60 years Yalta has largely slipped from our political vocabulary, but for a time it was one of the great buzzwords in American politics, the first shot across the bow by the Republican right in their long, venomous, immensely destructive assault upon Roosevelt (albeit posthumously), Truman, and the Democratic Party as soft on Communism — just as today’s White House attacks Democrats and other critics for being soft on terrorism, less patriotic, defeatists, underminers of the true strength of our country.

I’ve got nothing to add to that.

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