Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Read Any Good History Books Lately?

If you haven't, consider digging into the backpack of your middle schooler or high school student, and see how their history text handles the Clinton impeachment.

The Associated Press has conducted an informal survey of recently-published (or revised) history texts, exploring how they potray the Clinton scandal. According to the AP, most textbooks play it down the middle, providing "straightforward recaps of Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation." Most accounts spare students the lurid details of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, suggesting (perhaps) that America's most infamous cigar will eventually be lost to history.

But "straightforward" is apparently in the eyes of the beholder. Consider this "methodical and balanced" description from McGraw-Hill's "The American Journey" a middle school history text:

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment."

General agreement? That might come as quite a shock to Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright, who fined Clinton $90,000 for lying in the Paula Jones case. She also held Clinton in contempt of court, determining that he deliberately gave false testimony in his deposition in the lawsuit filed by Jones, who accused him of sexual harassment. Judge Wright's ruling left no doubt that Clinton lied under oath, once and for all.

A high school text, "A History of the United States" (published by Pearson Prentice Hall) describes the impeachment as a "sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.

Call that one half-right. Clinton did more than any president since Nixon to bring discredit and shame upon the office. But lumping the House impeachment managers into the same category is nothing more than recitation of shop-worn DNC talking points. Clinton committed impeachable offenses--namely, lying under oath--and the House did its required duty. The same cannot be said of the U.S. Senate, which took up the matter reluctantly, and quickly decided that Clinton's crimes did not warrant removal from office.

At all levels, textbooks refer to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair in only the mildest terms, describing it as a "personal relationship" or "improper relationship" between the President and a young intern. There are no references to immoral aspects of the affair, and its coarsening effect on our culture as a whole. The history books fail to record that Mr. Clinton is the only president whose conduct coined a new phrase for oral sex (a Lewinsky). Some legacy, huh?

As a former history teacher, I can identify with the difficulty of condensing an entire Presidency into a few paragraphs. And, in all fairness, the sum of Mr. Clinton's years in office is more than the Lewinsky scandal, his perjury and the subsequent impeachment. But I can also recognize a soft-peddle when I see one. Most of today's historians are over-whelmingly liberal, they share Bill Clinton's world-view, and they're more than willing to go easy on the issues of misconduct and impeachment. And sadly, their take on these issues will become the gospel for thousands of middle and high school students. As Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University told the AP:

"The books not only influence the students, they influence the teachers," he said. "And given that many students don't go on to college — and even those who do may not revisit the material — the textbook may be their most significant impression."

And that's the general idea, isn't it?

Hat tip: Betsy Newmark.

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