Balkinization  

Sunday, October 19, 2008

W. as History

Mary L. Dudziak

It is often said that journalists take the first cut at history. Historians then follow up, after the dust has settled. By then the story looks different, or perhaps there are newly released sources. Other presidential administrations have been subject to rounds of revisionism, and George W. Bush’s presidency will be no exception. A shelf of books has already been produced by journalists. Historians are getting a head start as well, with a collection entitled "W. as History" well under way, edited by the noted political historian Julian Zelizer. I will contribute an essay on law in the Bush Administration.

For an early take on the Bush years to be of value, historians should be asking different questions than journalists. Historians can set the Bush years within a broader political trajectory. The question to ask is not simply what occurred, but what the broader narrative is. An early legal history of the administration should not simply walk through the cases, statutes and executive orders. Instead, the starting point is to understand how the President, the Court and others understood the world they have inhabited. And what role has law played in their efforts to manage their world?

With this in mind, I was quite curious to see Oliver Stone’s take in W., which premiered this weekend. Stone does not critically engage the context within which the Bush years unfolded. But for all of its limitations, Stone does something in the film that I expect historians will do: he put George Bush back into the history of the Bush Administration.

Important recent works on the administration tend to emphasize the role of Vice President Cheney. Cheney’s role, and his efforts to expand executive power and the power of his own office, have been critical. But in some treatments, the president himself seems to fade from view. In this respect, we may well see a parallel to writing on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency. Initial takes on Eisenhower criticized the president as detached and ineffective. But Fred Greenstein and others later called it the "Hidden Hand Presidency," arguing that beneath a placid surface, Eisenhower was a more deeply involved and effective president.

Now, Bush II will surely not fare as well in the history books as Eisenhower. And in the end he may not appear to have as central a role as in the current film version. But it is important to ask whether outrage over the role of his vice president has obscured the role of W. in his own presidency.

As to Stone’s take on W. as president, he shows a simple man who nevertheless directs his presidency. More important than his vice president is his belief that he was chosen to serve, and is doing God’s work. In case any moviegoers miss this point, Stone turns to Bob Dylan to emphasis it in the musical score to the credits.



Some of the lyrics to With God On Our Side:

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side....

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

Comments:

"Other presidential administrations have been subject to rounds of revisionism, and George W. Bush’s presidency will be no exception."

But with W, the revisionism commenced shortly after his inauguration, continuing vigorously since. In fact, at this Blog, little Lisa's bro has been the chief revisioner, with his expanding backpack of lies that emulates Pinocchio.
 

With W, Oliver has left no Bush unStoned.

W's National Historical Strategy: "Pre-emptive Revisionism."
 

The idea that Bush was stupid and did not run the executive is the same Dem slander leveled against Reagan back in the 80s. In both cases, the claim was ridiculous on its face.

Heck, I have yet to see the lame duck Bush two weeks from the election. Is there anything of substance he has not obtained from Congress? Congress and both candidates for President have all supported everything he has offered to address the economic slow down and the bank crisis from the rebate checks to he rescue plans.

Like him or hate him, Bush has always been in charge.
 

Little Lisa'a bro has selected a revisionist w(h)ine to go with his lame duck a la W: tooty AND fruity!
 

The idea that Bush was stupid and did not run the executive is the same Dem slander leveled against Reagan back in the 80s.

History tells us the best part about this statement is that the Dems were right about Reagan.
 

Yeah, they were definitely right about Reagan, at least in the second term.
 

Is "Bart" saying that Reagan was up to his neck in Iran/Contra?!?!?

Cheers,
 

Stone's "W" is doing better than similar fiction like "Taxi To The Dark Side," but has come in 4th this Weekend behind such blockbusters as Max Payne, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Secret Life of Bees.
 

Hey "Bart":

Stone's "W" is doing better than similar fiction like "Taxi To The Dark Side,"...

That reminds me. Have you actually seen "Taxi to the Dark Side" yet?

Just wondering, since you'd criticised it earlier sight-unseen.

Maybe you could enlighten us on which parts are the "fictional" parts of it now, having seen it....

Hell, you could even write a review...

Cheers,
 

Have you actually seen "Taxi to the Dark Side" yet?

That's great, but if you really want to hurt the guy, ask him if he's seen Max Payne yet. Then encourage him to see it...
 

Governor Sarah Palin came to our city recently and a bunch of us showed up to razz her and to be rude. A conservative commented on the story on our local IMC:

"It is so nice to see so many patriotic, well-wishing,
Americans cheering in a wonderfully behaved manner. NOT!!!!!

"They are the typical Left rabble rousing, hate mongers one has come to expect at the oppositions rallies. Anyone with views to the right of the Left's anti Americanism is deemed all manner of vile 'things.' May they reap what they have sown."

So I responded:

"DDay from Hullabaloo details them many illegal (or what should be illegal) and immoral actions that Dear Leader is up to
http://tinyurl.com/3kx2m6
If America were being run by a decent and moral crew instead of the criminals we've got now, then asking for civility on the part of lefty protesters would make some sense."

Funny, but our commenter never came up with a smart-alecky reply to make in response. Big problem of course was that DDay (Who actually spells his name as dday) started off with "signing statements" and those are awfully hard to pass off as legitimate legal tools.
 

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