Professor Bainbridge tells of a forthcoming Discovery Channel show where people can vote on the 100 greatest Americans. He isn't pleased with it. Neither am I. I love Barack Obama, but he has done absolutely nothing to earn a place amongst the top 100 Americans ever (yet). Bainbridge also helpfully bolds those names he thinks definitely should be in the top 100 and italicizes those he thinks definitely shouldn't. Those who he thinks there's room for argument, he keeps in normal font.
I realize that it would be tremendous waste of time to go down the entire list and pick out my disagreements, point by point. But I want to mention two decisions that caught my eye.
The first is Jackie Robinson. He says definitely not. Breaking the color barrier in America's pastime, and definitely not? Incredible statistical achievements aside, Jackie Robinson was the most visible sign of racial integration prior to Brown v. Board. You could make the case that his classy and gutsy performance in his rookie season and thereafter was a critical turning point in the civil rights revolution, providing unassailable evidence of black equality in what previously had--literally--been an all-white endeavor. I'll grant that he is not a lock, but I don't think it is "definite," by any stretch, that he shouldn't be there.
The second problem is a comparative one. He lists Ronald Reagan as a lock, while having Dr. Martin Luther King down as just a "maybe." Excuse me? I will say this about President Reagan, he is the most recent president I'd even consider putting on the list (before that, I think JFK or maybe even Eisenhower are the most recent ones you could argue for). I'd even say I'd lean towards it. However, to say he was more important than Dr. King is a massive distortion of priorities. I would put King in my top 10, let alone top 100. He was instrumental in ending this country's shameful legacy of race discrimination and subordination, a powerful orator, and a role model for generations of activists tempted by the siren's call of violent confrontation. Reagan's contributions are great, to be sure, but they are also more controversial and the causation is speculative. Furthermore, even for the good things that unquestionably did happen in the Reagan administration, I don't think you can lay the credit entirely at his feet. And in evaluating Reagan, we do have to acknowledge the Iran-Contra affair and his tacit (and not-so-tacit) support for brutal right wing dictatorships as significant negative items on the ledger (speak of the devil, look at David Adnesik). Dr. King has no such liabilities. Put them both on the list, perhaps, but there is simply no way to justify having Reagan on there and King off.
UPDATE: Victory is ours! Professor Bainbridge just updated his post, agreeing on both Robinson and King. He does argue that Reagan definitely should be on it as well though. Recall though that I said I would lean toward putting Reagan on as well (though NOT, repeat NOT, because he made Republicans a permanent majority in America. Ugh.). I'm just saying that you cannot by any stretch put him on and leave King off. He also says that Thurgood Marshall was more important than Dr. King. Of all the people, I'm surprised to hear Professor Bainbridge say that. I would have thought that Justice Marshall would have earned the good Professor's ire as a "judicial activist" and an overall weak judge (charges that have been leveled at him before). Meanwhile, Dr. King's seamless connection of religious faith and moral activism would, I would have thought, struck a chord. Dr. King is perhaps the greatest reminder to the secular left that religion can be their champion too. As someone who feels faith should get a greater hearing in the public square, Dr. King could be your greatest ally, Professor.
One more thing, too. Bainbridge writes that "David Schraub takes me to task in a couple of posts, I guess mostly for not being politically correct enough." It is a sad day in America when racial equality (or the recognition of its importance) becomes something dismissed as "politically correct." Throw that label at Affirmative Action and Jesse Jackson if you'd like. But saying that the recognition of Dr. King's accomplishments is an example of "political correctness" is ridiculous bordering on offensive. The Civil Rights Act was not "politically correct." The Voting Rights Act was not "politically correct." Demanding to be served as equals in southern restraunts, bus stations, and department stores was not "politically correct." These were events that were absolutely vital to America's status as a just society. Ever wonder why Blacks still feel alienated in America? It's because a mere 40 years after the Civil Rights Act, we already are placing some of their greatest champions below our greatest chefs in terms of praise, and labeling any attempt to challenge it as just another example of PC run amok. Remembering these acts as turning points in American history is not "politically correct," it is just "correct." We dismiss them at our own peril.
See my other update here.