David Greenberg on the Obama-Johnson Analogy

Not knowing as much as I should about the Pentagon Papers and whether that period is in any way analogous to this Wikileaks-sponsored moment, I asked one of Goldblog's in-house historians, David Greenberg, to comment on the comparison. This is what he wrote:

I'm kind of an anti-analogy historian because usually analogies get pressed into the job of political oversimplification. Even so, I don't really see the LBJ echoes. Afghanistan's a mess, but it's a different kind of mess from Vietnam. Obama's political flak is coming mostly from the right, not the left. The fact that it's economic hardship, recession, etc. that is at the source of Obama's problems makes his presidency fundamentally different from LBJ's.

I do think that under Bush, many features of the late '60s/early '70s were reproduced -- the unpopular war, the civil liberties violations, the Nixonian patriotism politics, the revival of the anti-imperial left, and so on. Obama is still working in that environment to some degree. But if you're doing analogies, that makes him less like LBJ than like Gerald Ford. (Now there's an analogy I guarantee you no one's used before!) More seriously, Obama faces some of the same problems Carter faced and has shown some Carter-like tendencies. But that analogy also has limits, because Obama's already far more successful on the domestic front than Carter was and, for all his stumbles in foreign policy, has yet to hit any Carterite disasters. Obama is such a better president than Carter that I wouldn't want that analogy taken out of context.