Stop Distorting US History, Senator Collins

As a professional historian, I was shocked to read the otherwise utterly forgettable story in the September 4 Bangor Daily News about Senator Collins’ September 3 Distinguished Lecture at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Since her brother Samuel currently chairs the University of Maine System Board of Trustees, it’s no surprise that she would be asked to be the inaugural lecturer. Indeed, the Collins family has long had a huge influence on public higher education in Maine.

Her tiresome self-praise about being more bi-partisan than almost every other Senator is one thing. So, too, was her equally familiar plea not to have another government shutdown—which, to be sure, would more likely be caused by her beloved Republicans, not that she’d ever concede that.

No, what infuriated me were her comments about the good old days in Congress when Congress allegedly drove “extraordinarily positive change,’ including the Morrill Land-Grant Act, “the GI Bill, the Interstate Highway System, Medicare, Medicaid,” and “the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s.”

In nearly all of these cases, it was the President, not the Congress, that led the way, and certainly none of these would have become law without strong Presidential leadership. Is Senator Collins THAT ignorant of American history?

I suspect that her real agenda was to marginalize especially President Lyndon Johnson, the person most responsible for the last three items on Collins’ list. After all, Johnson was a Democrat, and Collins’ bi-partisanship doesn’t extend to giving him the credit he deserves. Does anyone familiar with the Johnson Administration really believe that he was merely following Congress in pushing for these and other laws and policies?

I would hope that “Our Senator” was asked by at least someone in the audience to clarify this gross distortion of American history. But I suspect that the audience either didn’t recognize her outrageous comments or else didn’t care.

Senator Collins may get away with this pseudo-historical nonsense in Maine, where she is unbeatable in every election, but students and scholars of American history–regardless of their party affiliation, if any–will recognize her real partisan Republican Party agenda if they read her words.