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April 30, 2006
Worst. President. Ever.
Rolling Stone's cover story this month is an analysis by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz on just how horrible the Bush administration is, really. (Answer: Oh, so horrible.)
While not revealing anything new, the article puts Bush's presidency in historical context, laying out each of his major failures (it's a long article) in the arenas of foreign policy, domestic policy, and personal credibility and competence and how they compare to the deeds of some of the other jerks who have held that office.
Bush is a particular tragedy as his presidency comes at such a critical time. The worst possible man to govern at the most important possible time.
How does any president's reputation sink so low? The reasons are best understood as the reverse of those that produce presidential greatness. In almost every survey of historians dating back to the 1940s, three presidents have emerged as supreme successes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These were the men who guided the nation through what historians consider its greatest crises: the founding era after the ratification of the Constitution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and Second World War. Presented with arduous, at times seemingly impossible circumstances, they rallied the nation, governed brilliantly and left the republic more secure than when they entered office.
Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.
And then there's this...
No other president -- Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War -- faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonized the Democrats. Top military advisers and even members of the president's own Cabinet who expressed any reservations or criticisms of his policies -- including retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- suffered either dismissal, smear attacks from the president's supporters or investigations into their alleged breaches of national security. The wise men who counseled Bush's father, including James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, found their entreaties brusquely ignored by his son. When asked if he ever sought advice from the elder Bush, the president responded, "There is a higher Father that I appeal to."
And that's really the problem right there. Not just the higher Father thing, which frankly is too scary for me to even deal with right now, but the arrogance of dismissing opposing viewpoints when faced with such complex and critical issues. Lincoln filled his cabinet with people who HATED him, Bush fires anyone who even slightly disagrees. And his supporters are the same way, arrogant to the point of lunacy. Pride, I might remind all of them, the president especially, is not something to be proud of.
996 days to go...
The country is being led by a cultish madman, with the imaginary father friend in his crazed brain (himself dictating to himself why all errosion of Constitional law is okay, so long as it continues to be sanctioned by the imaginary friend in his brain).
He's the "decider", because he's the President, and presidents do whatever they want; they're told what to do by invisible father friends who make all laws, according to crazy cultish George.
Rolling Stone boldly calls George W. Bush the "worst president in history" on their cover. Okay, okay, so they weren't so bold. The magazine uses the interrogative rather than the declarative. That's pretty timid. That's pretty boring. The editors lack the courage of their convictions. But is there any question what those convictions, at least regarding George W. Bush, are?
Aside from being asked about twenty years too soon, the question itself isn't terribly out of line. George W. Bush started a disastrous war, presided over a massive expansion in federal spending, abdicated his duty to protect the borders, and burdened future generations with paying for new, expensive medical entitlements. But Jimmy Carter was more inept, Lyndon Johnson more destructive, and dozens of other presidents more inconsequential (which, come to think of it, isn't a bad thing). Is George W. Bush the worst president in history? No. An affirmative answer reveals more about the respondent's knowledge of history than George W. Bush's place in it. Bush has done some good things--cut taxes, killed terrorists, appointed jurists who respect the Constitution. But the ideological rigidity of historians precludes them from recognizing any of this as positive.
More off-putting than the serious question is the silly person, and the sillier magazine, posing it. If Sean Wilentz truly is "one of America's leading historians," as Rolling Stone claims, what's he doing writing the cover story for a magazine that just last week asked on its cover: "Is Saving the World Killing Keifer Sutherland?" Forgive me for being a snob, but a celebrity magazine that's recently pondered such subjects as "Shaun White: Attack of the Flying Tomato" and "Madonna: How She Got Her Groove Back" doesn't seem the venue for one of America's leading historians. It's not. And Sean Wilentz is not.
Wilentz is a well known scholar of history, but he is well known for reasons independent of his work as a scholar. History bores Sean Wilentz. He much prefers the present to the past, which explains why he writes so much about the former and hasn't made much of a mark examining the latter, despite his ostensible profession.
In 1998, the Princeton University professor orchestrated a full-page advertisement in the New York Times defending President Clinton from the successful effort to impeach him. Signed by numerous liberal historians of note, the document lambasted what it labeled a "dangerous new theory of impeachment." Two years later, Wilentz organized a group of Americans with a less prestigious academic pedigree (Rosie O'Donnell, Paul Newman, Bianca Jagger), the Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000, to sign full-page ads opining on the Florida election controversy. "Sign," Wilentz implored in emails to liberals. "And get me as many famous names as you can to sign it by 1 p.m. TODAY. EXTREMELY URGENT." One of the ads claimed that there was "good reason to believe that Vice President Gore has been elected President," while another appeared with language that Wilentz failed to show his signatories. As far as public intellectuals go, Wilentz is more public than intellectual.
Was George W. Bush a good president? A bad president? Mediocre? These are questions that will be debated years from now by serious historians. Sean Wilentz will add his two cents as well.
Hey, I have an idea.. if you're going to use other people's words, just give the damn link and stop posting entire articles in my comments. That's not a comment, it's plagiarism. You think it's interesting? Tell us why and link to it. Sheesh.
Oh, and it's typical and dumb, anyway.