Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007) and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
Rating the Presidents — and Obama
I’ve been getting emails from bewildered colleagues asking about a survey of presidential scholars that determined that Barack Obama is the twelfth best president in the history of the United States, putting him near the top quartile of our presidents.
How can this be? I, too, was mystified, especially given that I participated in the survey.
The survey was conducted by the impeccably fair C-SPAN. Few sources do their job like C-SPAN does. If you want truly unfiltered news, C-SPAN is unrivaled for its ability to simply place a camera in a room and let reality speak for itself.
When it comes to surveys of presidents, C-SPAN likewise has no peer. I remember the nauseating presidential surveys in the 1980s and 1990s. They were mere measurements of the liberalism of the academy — that is, liberal historians and liberal political scientists expressing their liberalism by their liberal rankings of presidents. It was a farce.
C-SPAN, fortunately, has endeavored to provide a valuable corrective. In 2000, 2009, and 2017, C-SPAN set out to do its own survey and has indeed assembled a more rounded group of scholars. (I was among those surveyed for the 2009 ranking, as well.) To be sure, most (if not the vast majority) of the scholars surveyed are clearly on the left, but there are a decent number of conservatives: By my estimate, over a dozen, possibly as many as twenty. Of course, that’s still far out of proportion with the population at large, where self-identified conservatives have outnumbered liberals for decades (usually in the range of 35-40 percent self-identified conservatives vs. 20-25 percent self-identified liberals). C-SPAN needs to do better next time around. A field of 10-20 conservatives among 91 participants isn’t good, albeit better than the nonsense we used to see in biased surveys.
Likewise befitting C-SPAN’s fairness, the ranking criteria for the presidents are commendably nonpartisan. The criteria are obviously intended to remove ideology from those doing the judging. Here are the ten criteria:
Relations with Congress
Vision / Setting an Agenda
Pursued Equal Justice for All
Performance Within Context of Times
For each of the ten criteria, a president received a scored ranging from one (“not effective”) to ten (“very effective”). I’d like readers to pause and look at those criteria carefully. Imagine if you were doing the judging.
Given these criteria — again, essentially non-ideological criteria — I personally had no choice but to score very highly presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson, all of whose presidencies I either did not approve of or outright despised or found destructive. But facts are facts: These presidents were extremely effective. No, I personally didn’t like how they were effective, but they were effective nonetheless. Did Wilson have an agenda and vision and get it through? Oh, yes. You bet he did. So did FDR and LBJ.
And yet, those same criteria prompted me to rank Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, and Eisenhower very high. I will not here share exactly how I tallied each, but I will say that those presidents in my top ten were very similar to those in the overall top ten. Here’s the top ten that C-SPAN compiled:
Following at eleven and twelve, respectively, were Woodrow Wilson and Obama. (For the record, I gave Kennedy a decent rating, but to place him in the top ten, and ahead of Reagan, is just plain stupid. Gee, the guy wasn’t even president three full years.)
But what about Barack Obama at twelve? I’ll say this as nicely and professionally as I can: I find this utterly perplexing. Do the exercise yourself. Go through those ten categories. Ascribe Obama a score of one to ten, and do so relative to other presidents you’ve ranked. Where would you give Obama a ten? How many (if any) scores above a five would you give Obama? For that matter, how would you not score Reagan so much higher than Obama? Yes, Reagan finished with an overall ranking of nine, which is better than Obama, but his total composite score wasn’t much higher than Obama’s.
Seriously, are even liberals that happy with the Obama presidency? Try to remove your ideological lens, whether left or right, and assess these questions:
What did Barack Obama accomplish? What is the Obama legacy? What was the Obama vision/agenda and (more important, since we’re measuring effectiveness) how successful was he in implementing it? In 2012, at the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s promoters could do no better than come up with silly placards about how Obama “got Osama” and “saved GM.” Unlike the vast majority of two-term presidents, Obama’s re-election numbers were much worse. In fact, Barack Obama was the first president ever re-elected with fewer popular votes, fewer Electoral College votes, a lower percentage and percentage margin of victory, and winning fewer states. He never had a sustained period of high favorability. He couldn’t elect a successor to carry on his legacy. To the contrary, Donald Trump plans to repudiate any Obama legacy.
Where is the list of signature domestic achievements by Obama? Obamacare maybe? It was a disaster from the rollout, and it’s going to be repealed and replaced.
What were Obama’s defining moments of crisis leadership? Where’s his Cuban Missile Crisis? Did he even have a crisis to lead? How about Benghazi as a candidate?
Where was Barack Obama’s Camp David? What did he do for the Middle East, for Arab-Israeli relations, for relations with Russia, the EU, NATO, and the G-20? Where’s his NAFTA? Where’s his summit with the Russian leadership? Where’s his missile-reduction treaty? Where’s his chemical weapons ban?
As for Obama’s economic record, it was colossally bad. My economist colleague Mark Hendrickson calls it a “shocking historically weak economic performance,” as many others have shown. During the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the average annual real GDP growth was 1.5 percent, notes Hendrickson, “the weakest economic performance of any post-WWII president, and the fourth worst ever.” And to try to still blame that failure on George W. Bush after eight years is ludicrous. Obama’s GDP growth in 2016 (eight years after Bush) was a terrible 1.6 percent.
Bush’s economy grew better than that, and he inherited a recession and was hit with 9/11 his first year, which devastated the economy. In fact, not only was George W. Bush’s economic-growth rate better than Obama’s, but so was Jimmy Carter’s. Yes, Carter — typically upheld as the dubious yardstick of economic incompetence — actually had more than double Obama’s GDP growth (3.3 percent)!
Any deficit reduction under Obama (after he exploded the deficit to unprecedented record highs in the first two years of the Pelosi-Reid Congress) is attributable in large part to the Republican Congress that liberals excoriated for spending cuts (and now want to take responsibility for the subsequent deficit reduction). The Obama debt exploded way worse than the debt under Reagan and George W. Bush.
So, where would you score Obama on Economic Management? I can’t imagine anything beyond a three.
In what way was Obama a master at public persuasion? What new constituencies did he generate? Where are the Obama Republicans, akin to the Reagan Democrats? How were his relations with Congress? Did you observe stellar “administrative skills” in Obama? His notorious lack of meetings with his NSC and intelligence and security staffs were breathtaking in their lack of any administration. As I reported here in 2012, Obama attended only 44 percent of his Daily Briefs in the first 1,225 days of his administration. For 2012, he attended a little over a third. This was totally contrary to Bush and other predecessors. Reagan and Ike both had hands-off leadership styles, but at least they attended meetings.
Who gave him a ten for that category?
And if you’re extolling Obama’s attempted fundamental transformation of America’s public-school toilets via executive order, or his illuminating the White House in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, or his suing the Little Sisters of the Poor via the HHS Mandate, sorry, but those are not among the categories for evaluation.
I want to see the case made by the guy or gal who thinks that Barack Obama merits being listed near the top ten presidents in history. Actually, some must have rated him in the top five, because I guarantee my score for Obama (low as it was) surely dropped him a few pegs.
In short, I’m stunned. Based on the criteria we were given for ranking these presidents, I cannot conceive how Obama could possibly score well. I don’t see how Bill Clinton didn’t rate higher than Obama.
As noted, there were some conservatives on C-SPAN’s list. I’m wondering if the conservatives didn’t send in their surveys. The liberal historians must have gone bonkers in merrily giving Obama the highest scores in every category. But forget about that. This shouldn’t be a liberal-conservative thing. That’s the point. Literally half of my top ten or twelve were Democrats, and I’m no Democrat.
Clearly, the liberal scholars were not able to separate their partisanship when it came to objectively judging Obama. There’s no way that Barack Obama should rate the 12th-best president in U.S. history. Not a chance.
Women’s Marchers, Unite!
“The most important task,” said Communist dictator Kim Il Sung in October 1971, in his address to the Democratic Women’s Union of North Korea, “is to revolutionize and working-classize all the women.”
Kim hoisted the torch blazed by glorious female comrades such as Alexandra Kollontai (the Eleanor Roosevelt of the Bolshevik Revolution), Bella Dodd, Rosa Luxemburg, Ethel Rosenberg, Elizabeth Bentley, Lillian Hellman, Betty Freidan, Kate Millett, Angela Davis, and a bevy of true believers. Friedan and Millett were pioneers of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Millett, author of Sexual Politics, her dissertation at the ideological insane asylum known as Columbia University, became a cultural juggernaut when published in 1969. Time magazine hailed Kate as “the Karl Marx of the Women’s Movement.”
They were marchers for the revolution. And this past weekend, their ideological sisters lent their support to the Women’s March on Washington, an event that sources like CNN gave maximum publicity — a level of attention that absolutely will not be granted to this week’s March for Life in Washington, where the goal will be to preserve life.
A list of the sponsors for the Women’s March is illuminating. The two lead organizations, highlighted as the March’s “premier partners,” were Planned Parenthood — America’s preeminent abortion factory — and the Natural Resources Defense Council. As for the latter, if it confuses you why a group of climate comrades would march in lockstep with women whose highest priority is abortion, then you don’t understand the American left. Go to the website of the Women’s March, where “environmental justice” is featured among the leading “Unity Principles,” right up there with “reproductive rights” (read: abortion) and “worker’s rights” and “LGBTQIA rights” [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual].
But that was just the start. Arm in arm with the sisters at the Women’s March were two touted “Social Justice Partners,” namely: Emily’s List and NARAL. For these girls, too, “women’s rights” means one thing: abortion. Abortion, abortion, abortion. The holy sacrament in the feminist church.
The next major level of sponsors for the Women’s March was an eclectic cabal of fellow travelers and usual suspects: the ACLU, MoveOn.org, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and SEIU, the worst of the government unions.
And then there was a longer list of March “partners,” a Who’s Who of the left: AFSCME, the toxic National Education Association, the National Organization for Women, National Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Occupy Wall Street, the NAACP, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Watch, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Sierra Club, the National Urban League, the YWCA, the Center for American Progress, Code Pink, and a litany of Religious Left dupes such as the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the Unitarian Universality Association, and the heretical Catholics for Free Choice.
And there was a wider panoply of perversity: novel organizations like Free the Nipple, Got a Girl Crush, Pussy Hat Project, and the Georgetown University College Democrats.
But alas, most enlightening was another curious collective of sponsors for the Women’s March, one that brings me full circle to the start of this article. The Communists and Socialists came out: Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America.
Yes, Communist Party USA was a proud sponsor of the Women’s March on Washington, and the ladies were evidently proud to have them.
Ain’t nothing too left-wing, apparently, for the Women’s Marchers.
Among the Bolshevik element, consider some of the high-profile individuals who lent their names. Listed first among honorary co-chairs at the March website was none other than the delightful Angela Davis, where the glowing, lengthy bio somehow avoided mentioning even one word of Ms. Davis’s most notable bona fides: Davis has long been, of course, one of America’s most infamous Marxist-Leninists. Comrade Angela was so high-ranking that she not only met with the worst Communist despots in the Soviet Bloc, but actually twice ran on Communist Party USA’s presidential ticket. The celebrated recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize, much appreciated by the Kremlin for her advocacy of the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, ran as vice president of the United States on the Communist Party ticket, alongside longtime CPUSA party secretary and hack Gus Hall. (As I noted in a recent piece for The American Spectator, among those who voted for the Hall-Davis Communist Party presidential ticket was none other than John Brennan, Barack Obama’s CIA director.)
Davis was one of many tragic academic byproducts of Herbert Marcuse, the leading Frankfurt School cultural Marxist. Marcuse was guru to the 1960s New Left. Davis is arguably Marcuse’s most long-lasting success. He took her under his wing at Brandeis University in the early 1960s. In 1965, she honored her professor by retracing his steps to the University of Frankfurt. He sent her to West Germany to study at his old haunt, the hideous “Institute for Social Research.” She returned in 1967, coming back to America to continue studies with Marcuse as her doctoral adviser. The blooming Bolshevik formally joined Communist Party USA the next year.
Like any good Communist, Davis’s road to the revolution included breaking a few eggs along the way. She was soon pursued on charges of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy for her suspected role in the August 1970 murder of a prison guard. Like Weather Underground terrorists and Obama buddies Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, she landed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. And like Ayers and Dohrn, she escaped jail-time (“guilty as hell, free as a bird!” Ayers boasted), and then spread her wings in academia.
Today, like her late mentor, Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis is (naturally) a professor. She lists among her expertise the field of “critical theory,” the formal academic front-name for cultural Marxism. She holds forth on “LGBTQIA” issues to the wide-eyed freshmen whose duped parents hand over their children and lifetime savings to the universities to indoctrinate them.
One might think that today’s left would shy away from figures like Davis. But again, anyone who thinks that doesn’t know the left. The likes of Angela Davis are not embarrassments to today’s left; they are heroes. In June 2016, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum feted Davis with its 2016 Sackler Center First Award, “honoring women who are first in their fields.”
Among Angela Davis’s firsts, of course, was to be the first female comrade to run on a Communist presidential ticket.
And this past weekend, Davis was listed literally first among the female comrades who were the poster-girls to the Women’s March on Washington. She and her cronies at Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America must have gotten quite a kick at the legions of oblivious ladies and splendid dupes who joined them in solidarity last weekend — all marching for “women’s rights,” of course. Forward!
Barack Obama’s Fundamental Transformation
“We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” So declared Barack Obama in Columbia, Missouri on October 30, 2008, on the cusp of his historic presidential election.
It was a stunning statement, boldly revolutionary, surpassed only by the response of those in attendance, who, rather than pausing to reflect upon such an audacious assertion, wildly applauded. To be sure, these Obama enthusiasts would have ecstatically cheered anything he said at that moment. There was a full-fledged Obama personality cult in motion at that time. He could’ve promised a box of “Lucky Charms” cereal in every home and gotten a giddy reaction. Obama himself admitted to serving as a kind of “blank screen” upon which Americans desiring some warm and fuzzy “hope and change” could project whatever they wanted.
But even then, the words “fundamentally transform” should have alarmed everyone. We Americans generally don’t do fundamental transformation. We make changes, yes, small and large, but who among us — other than the most radical revolutionaries — actually want to fundamentally transform the nation? Many people think that America has many problems, but those can be addressed without a fundamental transformation. Ask professors who teach history or political ideologies (as I have for two decades) and we will tell you that totalitarianism is the ideology that fundamentally transforms. Indeed, the textbook definition of totalitarianism, which I’ve scribbled on the chalkboard every fall and spring semester since 1997, is to seek to fundamentally transform — specifically, to fundamentally transform human nature via some form of political-ideological-cultural upheaval.
So, that being the case, I winced when Barack Obama said that, and then felt sick to the stomach when I watched people blissfully and blindly applaud without question or objection.
But now here we are, at the end of Obama’s presidency, a two-term one, and the question begs to be pondered: Did Barack Obama fundamentally transform the United States of America, as he promised?
The answer is absolutely yes.
That fundamental transformation, however, has not happened in areas where many might have hoped (or feared) in 2008. It has not been a fundamental shift in the attitudes of the vast majority regarding the role of government, taxation, regulations, economics, education, or even healthcare, where Obama had his signature legislative achievement. It hasn’t happened in foreign policy, though Obama has made a seriously detrimental impact in regions from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.
The reality is that the true fundamental transformation has been in the realm of culture, notably in matters of sexual orientation, gender, marriage, and family. The shift there has been unprecedented and far beyond anyone’s imagination eight years ago. Looking back, that was where Obama’s heart was, and that was where his deepest impact will be felt. Changes there, more than anywhere, seem irreversible by anything other than the miraculous, than anything short of a religious revival or dramatic shift in spiritual-moral thinking.
Obama’s cultural revolution on the sexual-gender-family front is all around us. We see it in the culture of fear and intimidation by the forces of “diversity” and “tolerance” who viciously seek to denounce, dehumanize, demonize, and destroy anyone who disagrees with their brazen newfound conceptions of marriage and family, even as our position (not theirs) has been the prevailing position of 99.99 percent-plus of human beings who have bestrode the earth since the dawn of humanity. Instead, in the Obama era, we are the ones portrayed as the outliers, as abnormal, as extremists, as “haters.” If you dissent from this new vociferous breed of human-nature re-definers, they sue you, they jail you, they smear you, they boycott you, they harass you, they ruin you — and they do so (with no sense of their hypocrisy) in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity.” Whether you’re a Baptist grandma who bakes cakes, or a Catholic photographer who takes wedding photos, or a Mormon florist who arranges flowers, they refuse your appeals to your conscience; they steamroll you. Changes by Obama and his allies here have constituted a major attack on religious liberty, where two-century-old First Amendment guarantees have been torched by modern culture warriors discerning heretofore unknown higher rights like “marriage equality” and co-ed toilets.
That is a fundamental transformation of a culture and a nation that did not exist prior to Barack Obama’s ascent.
The manifestations of this are so ubiquitous that laying them out here isn’t necessary, but I’d like to offer just a handful of brief illustrations and images:
The first was the Newsweek cover from May 2012 showing Barack Obama with a rainbow halo over his head above the words, “The First Gay President.” This was in response to Obama coming out for same-sex “marriage,” which for five years he had claimed to oppose. This public shift occurred as Obama was ramping up his reelection campaign, just as Hillary Clinton would do later that year when she announced her 2016 campaign. After that announcement, Obama went wild with an aggressive agenda of fundamental transformation on the sexual-gender-family front, one that picked up speed, depth, and arrogance throughout his second term.
The second is another image, more profound than the Newsweek creation/coronation because it was real. It was from June 2015, when the Obama White House, the nation’s first house, was lit up in the colors of the “LGBTQ” rainbow [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities] on the day of the Obergefell decision, when a Catholic Supreme Court justice, Anthony Kennedy, led the liberal bloc of the court in redefining marriage and imposing this non-existent “Constitutional right” on all fifty states. If ever there was a picture of Obama’s fundamental transformation of America, that was it.
Third was the bathroom fiat, when according to Barack Obama’s word, all public schools were ordered to revolutionize their restrooms and locker-rooms to make them available to teenage boys who want to be called girls (among other gender novelties). It is hard to conceive a more surreal example of executive overreach. Truly, George Washington is rolling over in his grave.
Fourth is an ironic moment of Obama’s own doing, one that got virtually no press coverage. It occurred at a townhall meeting in London last April, where Obama was scolded by a young man for not doing enough to “recognize non-binary people” such as himself. This young man wanted the British government to “respect pronouns” — using not words like “he” or “she” but rather “hir” or “ze” — in addition to “commit to gender-neutral toilets.” “I really, really wish that yourself and [British Prime Minister] David Cameron would take us seriously as transgender people,” pushed the student.
“. . . And perhaps you could elucidate as to what you can do to go beyond what has been accepted as the LGBTQ rights movement, in including people who fit outside the social norms.”
It was almost hilarious to observe Barack Obama, of all people, reprimanded for inadequacies in this area, which brings me to my final example.
That London incident might have prompted a remarkable action by the Obama White House a few weeks later, which also got virtually no news coverage: The White House press office released two extraordinary fact sheets detailing Obama’s vast efforts to promote “LGBT” rights at home and abroad. Not only was it telling that the White House would assemble such a list, and tout it, but the sheer length of the list is striking to behold. It is hard to find any similar roster of such dramatic changes by the Obama White House in any policy area. The list runs page after page.
In short, what we see here is the true Barack Obama legacy, the genuine fundamental transformation. It has occurred not in economics, government, or foreign policy, but in culture. When we look back at Barack Obama’s eight years, we should visualize not Obamacare or something in foreign policy but the White House illuminated in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, or a rainbow-haloed Obama coronated as the “first gay president.”
George W. Bush: Deadlier Than Stalin? Our Profound Ignorance of the Crimes of Communism
“Many Millennials Think Bush Killed More Than Stalin.” Such was the surreal subject head sitting in my email box one morning. “Holy @#$%!” wrote a colleague in response. “This is mind-boggling. . . . This is scary, scary, scary.”
It sure is. It also isn’t surprising. Such profound, disturbing ignorance is a direct result of what Americans have learned about Communism in our horrid system of education, from high schools to colleges. The failure is massive.
According to a stunning new report by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, one-third of Millennials (32 percent) “believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin.” And it isn’t just those silly Millennials that we like to view as clueless. One in four Americans generally (26 percent) believe more people were killed under Bush than Stalin.
That is breathtaking. Truly incredible.
That rather sickening finding was just one by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which has the noble objective of trying to correct America’s ignoble ignorance of the crimes of Communism.
Among the basic facts that every American should know: At least 100 million people have died under Communist governments. That ghastly number, tabulated two decades ago by The Black Book of Communism, the seminal work on the subject by Harvard University Press, is actually conservative. For instance, the Black Book recorded merely 20 million dead in the Soviet Union. Alexander Yakovlev, one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s top aides, was given the official task of trying to quantify the victims. In a 2002 book published by Yale University Press, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Yakovlev estimated that Stalin alone “annihilated . . . sixty to seventy million people” — figures consistent with those estimated by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others. Similar levels of bloodshed were wrought by China’s Mao Tse-tung, who was responsible for the deaths of 65 million, according to the Black Book, and possibly more than 70 million, according to more recent biographical studies. And then there were the killing fields of North Korea, Cambodia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and more. Really, the death generated by Communist governments over the last 100 years is likely closer to 140 million.
For a sense of proportion, Hitler’s mad genocide against Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, the mentally disabled, the elderly, the handicapped, and others he deemed “misfits,” was approximately 10 million (six million of them Jews). The combined dead from World Wars I and II — the most destructive conflicts in human history — was 50-60 million. Communism’s body count surpasses both world wars combined and probably doubled.
And yet, Americans’ knowledge of this vast sea of destruction is atrocious, which brings me back to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The foundation is seeking to document this ignorance on a regular basis via its first “Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Towards Socialism.” According to the report, the vast majority of Americans (75 percent) underestimate the number of people killed by Communist regimes, and a strong majority (68 percent) believe that Hitler killed more people than Stalin.
Death tallies aside, not only do they not see Stalin for the killer he was, but their views on Communism are not terribly negative.
Just 37 percent of Millennials had a “very unfavorable” view of Communism. One quarter (25 percent) of Millennials have a “favorable” view of Vladimir Lenin, namesake of Marxism-Leninism, the vicious architect and godfather of the Bolshevik totalitarian state. And 42 percent of Millennials are flatly “unfamiliar” with Mao Tse-tung.
It gets worse: 64 percent of Americans agree with Karl Marx’s classic credo that underpins Communist philosophy: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Thus, it’s not surprising that close to half (45 percent) of Americans aged 16 to 20 (first-time voters in this presidential election) said they would vote for a socialist, and 21 percent would vote for a Communist. Of course, that’s reflected in what happened in 2016, as Bernie Sanders, a lifelong self-professed “socialist,” received 13 million votes in the Democratic primary. To give you a sense of that number’s significance, Donald Trump got 14 million votes in the Republican primary, and that was a record for a Republican primary.
This is not a failure to teach history; it is a failure to teach Communist and socialist history. We haven’t neglected to teach that Nazism was evil, that Hitler was a mass-murderer, that fascism is bad. We long ago failed when it came to Communism, Marxism-Leninism, Bolshevism, the USSR, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che, Pol Pot, North Korea’s crazy Kims, and on and on.
Importantly, that failure is often the result of ideological biases, especially among leftist teachers and professors. Liberals and progressives do not suffer the same historical negligence when it comes to teaching the crimes of fascism and Nazism. They do a bang-up job with Hitler’s crimes, but not Stalin’s.
And the result is seen in this study. You reap what you sow.
More death under George W. Bush than Joseph Stalin? Good grief, comrade.
Remembering Two Christian College Presidents—Charles MacKenzie and Michael Scanlan
The story of Christian higher education in America is a sad saga. Once upon a time, the nation’s premier universities were run by religious people or founded with religious missions, or at least were respectful of the Christian faith. That sharp reversal has been a painful long march, with a marked turn early in the 20th century. I’m often reminded of the sardonic words of Thomas Merton, who at radical Columbia University in the 1930s became a Communist. He ultimately escaped the god that failed, instead becoming a Trappist monk. Columbia had become a toxic environment where Dewey-ism rather than Christianity was the prevailing zeitgeist. Merton wrote:
“Poor Columbia! It was founded by sincere [Christians] as a college predominantly religious. The only thing that remains of that is the university motto: In lumine tuo videbimus lumen — one of the deepest and most beautiful lines of the psalms. ‘In Thy light, we shall see light.’ It is, precisely, about grace. It is a line that might serve as the foundation stone of all Christian and Scholastic learning, and which simply has nothing whatever to do with the standards of education at modern Columbia. It might profitably be changed to: In lumine Randall videbimus Dewey.”
That last sentence was a reference to John Dewey and to John Herman Randall, another influential Columbia philosophy professor. For Merton, he found God in spite of Columbia. And that was the 1930s. Merton and Randall and even Dewey would be stunned by the secular/leftward lunge of our universities in just a few generations. By the 1970s and 1980s, even colleges that were explicitly Christian by charter and mission enthusiastically separated from those moorings, led by administrators and faculty who fled the faith.
And yet, amid all the chaos, a few jewels held firm to the foundation, keeping the faith and holding true to or reverting to their missions. Two colleges that did just that, preserving and actually heightening their commitment, are Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, one Roman Catholic and one Protestant. The period when the two institutions successfully struggled to retain their commitments came in the 1970s and 1980s under the long-term leaderships of two particular presidents: Father Michael Scanlan and Dr. Charles MacKenzie.
My occasion for mentioning this now is a quite moving development: both Father Scanlan and Dr. MacKenzie were called to be with their Maker this January. Scanlan died on January 7 at the age of 85. MacKenzie died, on January 26, at age 92.
Michael Scanlan had stepped down as chancellor of Franciscan in 2011. He had been chancellor since 2000, and before that was president for 26 years. MacKenzie had been president of Grove City College from 1971 to 1991. He was the college’s (mere) fifth president.
In reaction to Scanlan’s death three weeks ago, the Catholic press was filled with glowing tributes. Tributes to MacKenzie likewise have now begun. Current Grove City College president Paul McNulty describes MacKenzie as a man of “courageous leadership” who had an “extraordinary impact” on the college, strengthening its “core values of faithfulness, excellence, community, stewardship, and independence. . . . He inspired us to serve God with energy and integrity.” Right up until his death, said McNulty, MacKenzie “continuously prayed for Grove City College and our distinct mission.”
Among the many remembrances of Scanlan and MacKenzie, I want to report an interesting but unseen ecumenical item related to their efforts — a joint effort. Faithful Catholics and Protestants alike will appreciate it, and it was first told to me by Scott Hahn, the famous Catholic convert and Franciscan University theology professor who, ironically, had been a student and then special assistant to President MacKenzie at Grove City College. Only Hahn could have observed what I’m about to relate.
During some very trying days when the two colleges were seeking to hold true to their Christian missions, Hahn several times overheard phone calls between MacKenzie and Scanlan, as the two men alternately advised and encouraged one another. Somewhat akin to the excellent ecumenical work of the late Chuck Colson and Father Richard John Neuhaus, here were Protestants and Catholics working together, united by a common foe: secular relativism, in this case in the academy.
Those phone calls, said Hahn, an eyewitness, were very important to MacKenzie. Hahn observed this first-hand in the president’s office at Grove City College. Hahn later heard more about the calls from Father Scanlan. When I met Scanlan, he confirmed the relationship with MacKenzie.
Back in 2011, when I heard the news of Scanlan’s retirement, I emailed MacKenzie to inquire about their relationship. He was eager to go on-the-record. “During my twenty years at Grove City, Father Scanlan and I had several conversations or communications,” MacKenzie confirmed to me.
“He and I were on the same wavelength as we sought to lead our schools back to the roots of the Christian faith. We were very careful what we said to each other, but I personally benefitted from his encouragement.”
MacKenzie hastened to add that he wasn’t free to share everything from their conversations. That isn’t a surprise. Recounting the faculty battles alone would be enough for a book. MacKenzie simply summed up by emphasizing that he and Scanlan “were on the same side on many of the issues.” He called Scanlan a “man of courage and faith, and in that regard, he was a blessing to me. . . . I thank God for him.”
And so do the folks at Franciscan University, which, today, like Grove City College, is a shining light amid the darkness of higher education. Both Scanlan and MacKenzie ensured that those lights were not extinguished under a bushel of secular relativism, as has happened at countless erstwhile Christian colleges. They wanted that light to shine before men, and they sought to do so cooperatively, not as antagonists from opposing Catholic and Protestant trenches, but as allies and partners working together in a shared vision.
It’s a tale of two Christian colleges that both Catholics and Protestants alike can learn from and emulate. *