Mr. Troy is Professor of History at McGill University, and the author, most recently, of
The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, (OUP) and
Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents: George Washington to Barack Obama . His other books include: Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady and Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s. He is a member of the advisory board of HNN. His website is giltroy.com. His next book “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism” will be published this fall by Oxford University Press.
Why Historians Can Help Campaign Coverage... Even Though This Political Reporter Apologized -- He Got His History Wrong
Cramer may have influenced Halperin. Still, Halperin reflects an all too typical, Clintonesque narcissism in conflating autobiography with history. The granddaddy of all “horse-race” reporters was Theodore H. White. White’s The Making of the President 1960 offered insider’s coverage of the battle between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. It is the most important book that shaped political coverage over the last half-century – and its influence was reinforced by White’s succeeding volumes covering 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. By the time Cramer came along, reporters were already addicted to character studies, minor biographical details that could be magnified, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, insignificant gaffes that could be made into scandals, perpetual polls, and, most annoying of all, the tendency to try reporting what happened before it actually occurred.
Theodore White always provided deep historical perspective and incisive social commentary while producing masterpieces of reportage. Were he alive today, what he spawned probably would appall him, even though he would acknowledge the great skill of Cramer, Halperin and many of the reporters who perpetuate today’s many journalistic sins on the campaign trail. White would be particularly dismayed by the short historical memory Halperin and so many of his peers display.
The first voting in caucuses and primaries is a month away. We historians have an important role to play as America votes. The point is not to pretend that historians have a clearer crystal ball than reporters, or voters themselves. Rather, we can help offer context, comparisons, points of reference. This blog will try to help us look forward by looking backward, seeing how they ran in the past as a way of better understanding why they run as they do today – and what we can learn about this fascinating, frustrating, democratic marathon that has been going on for months already – but now is going to start making history.