Allan Powell: Historians should also rank candidates

October 11, 2012|By ALLAN POWELL

In 2011, the Siena College Research Institute asked 238 presidential scholars to again rank presidents.

This was the fifth time for such evaluation and included the incumbent president. President Franklin Roosevelt was given the honor of first place, George W. Bush was given 40th and Barack Obama was given 15th. While all of this is interesting, would we not be better served if these 238 historians gave us an independent, professional assessment of candidates for such a high office before Election Day so that voters could make a more informed decision?

Since the Republican Party has given a fair number, ranked at the bottom, (Grant, Harding, Hoover, Nixon and George W. Bush), it would be of interest to see how Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, would fare. More than 200 certified historians should be able to sort out their talents, experience, character and proposals to give an educated guess about how they might carry out their duties. True, there are bound to be surprises. We all remember how a clothing salesman (Harry Truman) was ranked very high while an avowed Quaker (Richard Nixon) ranked near the bottom. Still, it’s worth a try.


Could these neutral historians retain neutrality when judging a candidate who created a state health plan and then condemned a similar one passed into federal law? Again, could they possibly give passing grades to a candidate accused of illegal actions? This was made public by Dailykos on Aug. 18. A federal judge reprimanded Bain Capital (with Romney as a director) because, “The anti-union activities in this case are not merely unfair labor practices as Key argues, but blatant, grievous, willful, deliberate, and repeated violations of the Railway Labor Act.”

These harsh charges against Bain Capital came from Roger Foley in 1984 when the company engaged in union-busting activities after it took over Key Airlines. The ruling against Bain came in 1992. How many more stories, such as the foregoing, will surface before the election? Worse yet, how many will surface after the election, if he should win?

A thorough study of Paul Ryan is important because it is possible that he could fill the office of president.

He is well-known because of his role in the creation of federal budget plans and for his staunch support of ultra-conservative social policies. Historians will have no problem uncovering his political agenda because his record is an open book. He has supported the Bush plan to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher system. He is forever at work trying to dismantle the New Deal.

This aggregate of historians could detect some character flaws in Ryan’s reaction to the release of news about his hero worship of Ayn Rand. He verbally praised her and frequently gave copies of her fiction praising this extreme libertarian idol. There was momentary embarrassment when it was revealed that Ayn Rand was an unabashed atheist. Ryan responded with the weak claim that he was not aware of her anti-religious stance.

While vice presidential candidates take a back seat to the driver of the political van, is it possible that when you add on all of the baggage on board, the van goes into overdrive? This could be true when Ryan’s record on antiabortion is considered. This record became more interesting when Iowa Senate candidate Todd Aiken made a major political blunder by exposing incredible ignorance about the biological characteristics of women and speculated about “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” Seldom does a political debate generate so much heat.

The problem for Ryan came about because he and Aiken were on the same House committee that crafted so many proposals to restrict a woman's right to manage pregnancies. It turned out that the views of the two men were very similar and reflected the ultra-conservative platform of the Republican Party. It doesn’t matter that platforms are made to run on — not stand on — there will be some guilt by association. Ryan’s baggage is now more visible.

In the end, no matter what the learned historians might conclude, other factors might influence the outcome. If they should emerge victorious, the House and the Senate could be controlled by the other party and they could be stalled in their tracks. Any report by the historians might well be ignored by the electorate because they are perceived as ivory tower outsiders. The whims of the Electoral College might be more definitive than the popular vote. One thing is not in doubt, however: this election is very important.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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