Letters to the Editor: On the "Bully Pulpit"

David F. Krein, October 2003

This letter is in response to AHA President James M. McPherson's article, Revisionist Historian, published in the September 2003 issue of Perspectives.

To the Editor:

When Theodore Roosevelt called the presidency a "bully pulpit", I am sure he was not referring to his 1912 presidency of the AHA, but rather a somewhat higher office. James McPherson, however, seems intent to use his 2003 term as AHA president as his own "bully pulpit" to promote a personal political agenda. First, there was his addle-pated defense of affirmative action, and now a wholesale assault on the Bush administration's Iraq policy under the guise of defending "revisionism", ending with a smugly supercilious attack on National Security Adviser Rice.

I have been a member of the AHA for 30 years, have written for these pages (September 1985), have presented at one of its conventions (Chicago 1986), and have reviewed for and been reviewed by the American Historical Review, and I am not about to resign my membership. But this kind of politicization of the profession, redolent of the AHA's 1982 nuclear freeze goofiness, is what impelled me eagerly to join the Historical Society as soon as its formation was announced. Reading Professor McPherson's latest diatribe, I wondered who his intended audience was. Certainly the members of the AHA do not need to be told in their newsmagazine that revising previous historical interpretations is part of their job. So it must be intended for an audience wider than our membership. While McPherson is entitled to all the partisan, condescending, and muddled thinking he can muster, it seems to me inappropriate for the AHA to allow him to use the pages of Perspectives to express it, because, in the larger world he is seen as speaking for the AHA. And surely he is not. For the dignity of the profession, I implore him to stop. As my father was wont to say, "genug ist genug," to which I should add, "already."

—David F. Krein
Scott Community College
Bettendorf, Iowa