Steven Hayward: Fair And Balanced

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It is a given that today the Left dominates the historical profession. And accordingly, they edit out any inconvenient facts favoring the other side to achieve their liberal slant. In the process, they adopt the very Manichean view of history they accuse the Right of fostering; or in the words of their recently departed President, the view that the Republicans are “wrong,” and “we are right.”

Hence, there is a temptation for the meager batch of conservative historians to counter-attack using the same Manichean model.

But although decidedly conservative, Historian Steven Hayward refuses to play that game. And this is all the more impressive when one considers his chief topic, Ronald Reagan. Today it is fashionable among liberals from that era to claim they were supportive of actually ending Communism, but to this day Reagan causes still liberals to gnash their teeth.

To attempt objectivity by finding value on the other side requires a great effort. But Hayward achieves this, while at the same formulating a historical pattern (liberals also use this but with an air of sorrow) that shows liberalism running out of steam after during and especially after the Great Society.

In a preface to his first volume of the Reagan years, which charts his rise from 1964 to his election in 1980, Hayward lays out his even-handed approach:

“…although this narrative is hard on liberals and liberalism, it is not intended that ‘liberal’ be taken as a pejorative…it is my hope that liberal-minded readers will engage this narrative in a spirit of self-criticism, and also with an eye toward correcting any errors of fact or interpretation that have led me to an unduly harsh or unfair judgement. There ought to be more thoughtful occasions between Left and Right than Geraldo or Crossfire.”

Firmly against LBJ, he does at times lodge attacks on him synonymous with the Left’s, particularly with regard to Vietnam. As with the anti-war crowd, Hayward asserts that Gulf of Tomkin “attack” from allegedly the Vietcong, was, at best, misinterpreted; at worst, based on a fiction. Hayward makes a strong case for the latter, when he cites LBJ, who used the “attack” as justification for putting ground troops into Vietnam, telling a confidant later, “Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at whales out there.”

Hayward also hits LBJ where he would seemingly be impervious: Civil Rights. Although Johnson signed into law a sweeping Civil Rights’ package, the president never shed his belief that the “Communists” were in charge of Martin Luther King’s marches.

The New Left gets drubbed as well but not just from the usual conservative attacks on their Castroite, Maoist, and yes, Stalinist sympathies. Hayward comes at them from a “liberal” angle. The Black Panthers are, of course, thugs who shoot cops. But they are also, through the words of their founder, Stokely Carmichael, haters of Martin Luther King’s attempts at integration: “We see integration as an insidious subterfuge for supremacy in this country.” Hayward also hammers Carmichael from a feminist angle, citing the Black Panther’s infamous quote about women’s role in the black power movement–“the only position for a woman…is prone.”

By contrast, Hayward is much more complimentary toward Bobby Kennedy (who New Leftist Tom Hayden called “a little fascist”) by locating in him admirable conservative values. Although a firm critic of Johnson’s Vietnam War, Kennedy is viewed by Hayward as conservative on domestic issues. He criticized the Great Society from the right, stating that the nation did not need “a massive extension of welfare services.”

Regarding the direction of welfare policy from Washington, Kennedy anticipated conservative criticisms a decade later, and even repudiated his brother’s big government approach:

“In the last analysis it should be in the cities and towns and villages where the decisions are made, not in Washington…the solutions of the New Frontier, of the early 1960s, are not necessarily applicable now.”

Hayward even has Kennedy constructing a private sector approach to inner city rebuilding while its later proponent, Jack Kemp, was still an NFL quarterback.

Hayward even pays conservative kudos to the Reaganites’ bete noir, Jimmy Carter, who shared with Reagan a view of Washington as “a bureaucratic mess.” Although he highlights Carter’s naivete about the Soviets by believing Russia is emulating his own military defense cuts (Hayward provides convincing proof they were in fact bolstering their military) he does record that Carter reacted strongly to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Carter cut off technology and grain sales to the Soviets and began sending aid to the Mujahadeen.

Conservative or liberal, Hayward is a rarity among the historical profession today. He tries to be balanced, and find value on the other side.