The Herald spoke with Winthrop history professor Andrew Doyle, who specializes in post-Civil War U.S. history, to put today's election into some historical perspective.
Both presidential candidates have said the 2008 election is like no other, in that America faces unprecedented challenges. Is that so?
They always say stuff like that. Every election poses unprecedented challenges. That's the nature of history. Circumstances change inevitably. Adding drama, making people feel like this is the most important election, is a way of motivating people. We don't know how important this will be. If we know anything, it's that statements like that are much more about political rhetoric.
What influence has presidential candidates' military experience had on their chances of being elected?
It really depends on the national security circumstances at the time of the election. Historically it has mattered, sometimes more than others. You can start with George Washington. Andrew Jackson, his military experience and leadership was his ticket to the White House. Ulysses Grant. After the Civil War, you see one after the other Civil War veterans going to the White House. After the end of the Cold War, it seemed to matter less.
History is sometimes kinder to political figures than one might expect. How will history view the George W. Bush presidency?
Making contemporaneous judgments like this is very difficult. They're often wrong. The historian's craft demands the perspective of time and access to information that we currently do not have. The long-term implications of the Iraq War will be the decisive factor of how Bush is judged. Right now, things aren't going as Bush had planned. But 50 years to a century from now is difficult to tell. My educated guess is that history isn't going to be terribly kind to George W. Bush. The country's long-term debt will play a large role in how his presidency is judged. To say the way in which he ran up the nation's debt is unprecedented is a gross understatement. The debt is very significantly out of whack. It's not something that's in our long-term national security or economic interest. The long-term implications of the debt will probably be much greater than the current economic crisis.