Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

February 1, 2005

Is academic history not political enough? And, is Bush a “legitimate” President?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:13 am

Is the practice of history in academia too political — or not political enough?

Clayton Cramer reports on an interesting debate taking place on a mailing list for historians of the colonial era. Apparently, some historians think the History Channel is not left-wing enough, and that academic historians should try to change that. Others think historians should “learn from the interests of the general public” and let that influence their research agendas.

Then, out of left field, from Trish Roberts-Miller (who teaches “Demagoguery” and “History of Public Argument” and other things at the University of Texas) came this:

Thus, for instance, 51% of *your* fellow citizens, Mr. Cramer, did not vote for Mr. Bush. That’s a statistical sleight of hand being pushed by the GOP to legitimate a President supported by a minority of citizens. It isn’t true. That you would toss out a false number as though it’s true is an interesting sign about with whom you talk.

Apparently, Bush is an illegitimate president because he didn’t get a majority of eligible voters, even though he got a majority of actual voters. Somehow, I doubt Ms. Roberts-Miller raised any objection to the legitimacy of Clinton’s presidency — and Clinton never even got a majority of the actual voters! (He got 49.2% in 1996 and 43.0% in 1992 — of actual, not eligible, voters.)

In fact, by the Roberts-Miller standard, we’ve never had a legitimate president! The highest presidential popular vote percentage ever was 60.3% for Richard Nixon in 1972, and it would require a turnout rate of 83% for that to be a majority of eligible voters. I’m pretty sure there’s never been a turnout of 83% (or higher) in the history of U.S. presidential elections.

One Response to “Is academic history not political enough? And, is Bush a “legitimate” President?”

  1. Trish Roberts-Miller Says:

    “Out of left field” is not quite what you mean. What you mean is “out of context.” I didn’t say Bush wasn’t legitimate; in the course of a conversation on a mailing list that you have mis-characterized, in which Mr. Cramer claimed, in the midst of a rather odd argument, that a majority of Americans voted for Bush, I corrected him.

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