American journalists are not historians; not even “draft” ones.

Many journalists over the ages have claimed that their profession provides the first draft of history. Whether that was ever true, and frankly I doubt it, it certainly is not true today. At least as it regards political history.

The practice of history is the endeavor to explain how things occurred (at least to the extent they had human agency). Political history is the description of how people used procedural and substantive legal rules to allocate the cost and benefits of government. In ascertaining and explaining causes and effects a good historian is not constrained by concepts of “nonpartisanship.” But the concept of “nonparsitanship” is at the heart of how a professional political journalist sees himself. Sacred is the notion that modern professional journalists are not permitted to take “sides” or to show the natural and actual consequences of a political philosophy or political maneuver. History cannot be written under such a rule, and if it is attempted, it is a silly endeavor.

Let’s take this mamby-pamby article by Calvin Woodward on how America became so politically polarized. It simply lists quotes by partisans claiming that the other started it. It’s the kind of mainstream porridge that causes people to go flying to Fox News and MSNBC. There is no analysis. There is no chronology. There is not attempt at showing causation. There is just the spectacle of quotations from some influential officials and some ordinary citizens. This is not history. And if there was a book written like this about any historical subject, no one would read it. (Even oral histories, if they are good, like Ronald Fraser’s gripping oral history of the Spanish Civil War, Blood of Spain (NY: Pantheon: 1979), work only when the author shapes the quotations into a narrative which allows the readers to see the causes and effects that the author has discovered, whether or not the author expressly states them.

A history of how America became so polarized in 2012 would highlight the tactics of Lee Atwater and George H.W. Bush and those about a decade later of Karl Rove and George W. Bush. Essentially all modern political vindictiveness stems from the two puppet-masters and their clients, father and son. But a journalist will never write that draft of history because he would be accused of being partisan. And journalists fear that the charge of partisanship will tarnish their objectivity, which to them is more important than history.

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