December 06, 2006

It's hard for me to argue with Prof. Foner's assertion that George Bush is the worst President of all time; his competition can be mainly separated into qualified-disasters-with-important-accomplishments-on-the-side, like LBJ and Nixon, or Civil War Era boobs who presided in the White House at a time when the power of their office was weaker, and the U.S. was nothing more than a regional power (Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Buchanan). Bush lacks the very real accomplishments of Johnson in the domestic arena (Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare, etc.) or Nixon in foreign policy (reproachement with China, detente with the Soviet Union), so he has much more in common with the latter group of men, with the important difference being the scale of American global power when he assumed office. Buchanan and Pierce may have been slow to react to Confederate treason, but at least they didn't jeapordize America's role as a superpower by their actions.

In short, Bush managed to hit the trifecta: our economy stagnated, our relations with the rest of the world worsened, and our nation is weaker than it was before he became President. Those points are important, since they go to why we elect people to lead us in the first place. We elect our Presidents in the hope that they will make the country a better place, not to follow some ideology or to act as a national role model. While the rankings generally reflect the political leanings of historians, which currently tend to skew left-of-center, there is little doubt about the men at the very top; it's Washington, Lincoln and FDR, and whatever shortcomings they may have had concerning African-Americans or women, or whether their views would be considered palatable today, is irrelevant to the totality of their ranking. A liberal historian might judge Jimmy Carter more kindly than William Howard Taft, or might rank Ronald Reagan worse than he deserves, but the true greats are not debated.

And the same thing is true at the bottom. It isn't just that James Buchanan was a pro-South sympathizer who hated blacks. The same thing could be said about almost all of the Presidents before Lincoln, and most of the Presidents that followed him up until the end of WWII. Bush, like Buchanan and Pierce, is a disaster because he followed policies that proved cancerous to the nation.


Virginia Centrist said...

Good points except for the economy stuff. The economy is pretty much fine. Bush had the bad luck of entering office during the beginning of a down turn, and it was a pretty mild downturn as well (thanks, as usual, to things that have nothing to do with Presidents' policy: the housing boom). How high did unemployment go? 6%? That's pathetic. Not a real economic downturn.

On Iraq, he's been a disaster, and on Katrina he was a disaster.

His economic policy favors the rich, but his tax cuts have really been too small to qualify as "disastrous". And if you're a conservative or a libertarian, the cuts are just right.

On social policy, he has pretty much maintained the status quo, save for his rhetoric and a few govenrment appointments.

On the Supreme Court, the Harriet Meyers nomination was troubling, but his other picks are competent.

On entitlements: The Medicare program is a boondoggle, but it's doing a BIT better than expected. I'd rate that bad policy, not disastrours.

NCLB is below average policy.

In Afghanistan, we did a great job.

There was a brief period (3-4 months) after 9-11 where Bush was a uniter. Can't deny him credit for that.

His trade policy has been a bit erratic, but mostly status quo.

He appointed a Fed chair similar to the past chair...

I don't like his civil rights record (wiretapping/etc) but when you compare it to other presidents, it's not the WORST.

I'd say Bush is a bad President, but probably not the worst. He's up there though, since his disasters (Katrina /Iraq) are monumental - though it's important to remember that we can't blame Bush for the destruction of New Orleans, only the slow effort in saving lives.

JollyRoger said...

The "economy isn't bad" lie should be shelved. It is well known that the unemployment numbers are woefully inadequate-and if we count things like below-poverty employment and underemployment, the picture is very bleak indeed. There really is a reason so many have slipped into poverty under the reign of El Shrubbo del Estupido. The apologists can go on ignoring the factual data if they wish, but it doesn't change the data.

For a look at a "great job," moreover, I would hardly pick Afghanistan as an example. Taliban on the rise, Osama free as a bird, opium production rising faster than Ted Haggard after a snort of meth. How can a comment like this even begin to be taken seriously?

If one is going to draw the proper historical comparison, I think it has to be with Warren G. Harding. The similarities are frightening to contemplate. How did we let this happen again?