Monday, November 07, 2005


Lewis Gould speaks in an interview on History News Network:

Karl Rove was indeed a student of mine during the spring semester of 1998. As someone still seeking his undergraduate degree, he used the individual conference courses that the University of Texas at Austin provided in its History Department to gain additional credit hours. He asked me if he could take an undergraduate conference course with the purpose of writing an essay about Theodore Roosevelt and the election of 1896. Over the first four months of 1998, during my last semester of teaching, he did the research and wrote the paper. We communicated by means of letters and regular phone calls. In the process, Rove developed, as I suggested he would, a greater appreciation of the political skills of William McKinley.

In the summer of 1999, as the Bush presidential campaign began, Rove called me to say that reporters would be getting in touch with me. Rove was advancing the idea to the media that Bush might do for the Republicans in the twenty-first century what McKinley did in the late nineteenth--establish an enduring national majority. Not wishing to be identified with the Bush campaign, I told reporters off the record about Rove's course and where his ideas about McKinley had originated.

Then in early 2000, Nicholas Lemann wrote an article in the New Yorker which dealt with Bush and Rove. Though he never spoke with me, Lemann described me as the leader of a "cabal" of conservative historians intent on rehabilitating the reputation of William McKinley. Suddenly, I was an intellectual influence on Rove and thereby of Bush. This neat pattern ignored several salient facts. The last time I spoke with Rove was when he called me in the summer of 1999. As I indicated in my book Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans (2003), I am not a Republican in my political allegiance. Finally, I did not regard the Bush-McKinley parallel as persuasive. At the same time, Rove had reached his conclusions on that point on his own and it did not seem appropriate for a former teacher to be offering opinions in public about a student’s judgments on this or that aspect of a course. I suspected that the flaws in the McKinley-Bush comparison would emerge in due time, as indeed they have, without comments from me.
The interview is an excellent example of Gould's judgment and fairness as a scholar. Good stuff.

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