Think of this as Volume 16, Number 43 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
I'm still reading crap about how conservative McKinley was. With hints about his being corrupt.
Fact is it was McKinley who launched the investigations that broke up Standard Oil, it was McKinley who began the Progressive Era, and it was McKinley who made Theodore Roosevelt the President by making him Vice President.
The reason for the misunderstanding was McKinley's assassination, in 1901, at Buffalo, by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. (right.)
Reform is the enemy of revolution, in that reform makes revolution unnecessary. The killing froze McKinley within his time, and as the Republican Party moved to the right, his memory moved right with it. It was Bryan's Populists who were the racists, the states' rightists, and the conservative force of that time.
Lincoln was seen as too conservative by radical Republicans, who impeached his successor as a result. At the same time he was far more radical than any southerner could accept.
FDR was seen as a communist by the far right of his time, while later historians see him mainly as a moderate.
Nixon was seen as an arch-conservative by liberals in the 1970s, but in retrospect may have been the most liberal President in American history, creating a host of new agencies, opening the door to China, and appointing Supreme Court justices like Harry Blackmun, who authored Roe vs. Wade.
The same is true today. Liberals see President Obama as an uncertain trumpet, conservatives as the devil incarnate. He is neither. He is simply a good man struggling to both deal with crises and push through moderate reform, in an impatient time.
It is because crisis Presidents are so misunderstood that their beliefs, which I have called their new Thesis, the set of myths and values that define their power, is at such risk in this particular point of their presidencies. It's because the old order is fighting for its life, throwing everything it has into it, while the new order stands fearfully by, unsure of its own power.
I had the benefit of being a conservative in 1972, and I saw it from the inside. There was an assumption among my friends that liberals were still dominant. They controlled the Congress, they controlled the media, they controlled the colleges, they had the young people. We, the avatars of a new order based on suburban stability, anti-communism, and privately-led change, felt beleaguered, under assault, threatened from every side. Just because you're paranoid, as Nixon was, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, because they were. And they did, once the results of Nixon's paranoia were proven.
McKinley and Nixon stand as examples of what can happen when a crisis leader falters, or is taken from the stage before his new assumptions have a chance to take root. Both were replaced by history, by Theodore Roosevelt in McKinley's case and by Ronald Reagan in Nixon's. But, over time, the new assumptions held because new coalitions had been established, a crucial segment of the population had changed its mind, and because the new Thesis dealt effectively with the problems of the day.
These are the days that try the souls of President Obama's supporters, because there seems to be so much uncertainty. We see polls pointing to a Romney win and we panic. We feel beleaguered, surrounded. (Sound familiar?) But the fact is that history is on our side, demographics are on our side, the process of change this President began will not be reversed, it will just take some amount of history to prove that point.
All of which leads to one final, and very sad, point, for all those who believe in this President. As bad as this year may seem, as uncertain as things may now appear, next year is likely to be an annus horribilus.
Look at the record of past crisis Presidents. What happened in the first year of their second terms? Lincoln and McKinley, dead. FDR, lost power in the Court packing controversy and suffered a second recession. Nixon, Watergate. Even Thomas Jefferson suffered the uncertainty of the Barbary War and the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, while Andrew Jackson suffered through the South Carolina nullification crisis, the first echo of what would become the War Between the States, in 1833. When you try to change history, history fights back, and one man alone can't do the job.
American history doesn't move forward in a straight line. Historians, both amateur and professional, look at the past for clues to the future, but all we get is a clue. There is never certainty about today or tomorrow. It is for us, the living, to fight our way through for the future, knowing only that it's what our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers did.
Just remember the new thesis. We take care of our own, wherever this flag's flown.
Don't lose that faith. Keep moving forward and fighting for a better future. That's what makes you an American, the genius of the past that lets you keep doing that, and will let you keep doing that, for all your days on Earth.
The fight, not the victory, is your birthright.