53 Historians on Obama (and nothing’s on?)


Gordon Wood, the award-winning historian and author of Empire of Liberty, balked when asked by the New York Magazine to prophesied on the legacy of Barack Obama.  He called it “a fool’s errand.”  But that reality has not stopped historians for engaging in speculation about how Americans will view Obama 20 years from now.  See the full range of comments here, but a few highlights:

  • Obama’s firsts “loom large” and mostly the fact that he was the first non-white president. The question of how “black” he was dominates the questionnaire.
  • The left takes aim at his failures to curb the national security state and overseas intervention while applauding the conservative “roadblock” he symbolizes.
  • Healthcare gets a mixed response from bungled websites (mismanagement), to the further privatization of insurance products (liberal complaints), to the conservative bellows of Obamacare’s socialist intentions.

Most of the historians surveyed admit that this is a speculative undertaking, at best, and the New York Magazine points out that Obama has pointed out that his policies are only now beginning to bear results (think of Cuban relations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and immigration for a few).  We can look back on 2008-2014, but it will likely prove unwise to write off 2015 and 2016 as peripheral to Obama’s lasting legacy.

It is also worth noting that the survey only includes historians working in the United States.


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