Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"History, We Don't Know. We'll All Be Dead"

President Bush may not know or care how history will judge him, as the title's quote suggests. A recent survey of professional historians shows that he probably wouldn't like the answer:
The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than [James] Buchanan.

This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record:

# He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;

# He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;

# He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;

# He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;

# He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (
Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);

# He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;

# He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;

# He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Quite an indictment. It is, of course, too early to evaluate a president. That, historically, takes decades, and views change over times as results and impact become more obvious.
I think they're right. Bush may look bad now, but with a little perspective I think he can overtake Buchanan and stand alone as the Worst President Ever.


Ra_wiggum said...

Don't forget, he also pissed off most of the world when he pulled out of 2 very high profile global agreements / treaties at the start of his reign of idiocy.
Kyoto, which was in the process of being ratified and is now much less impactful without the US. The other being an outright ripping up of the ABM treaty.

He basically just gave the rest of the world (as well as missile control and the environment) the finger with those moves.

Thrillhous said...

Funny thing, I have a Bush-supporting friend who constantly says that 20 years from now Bush will be seen as one of the greatest presidents ever. Folks today just don't appreciate how great he is, but it'll all be clear in a couple decades. I think it might be one of those "meme" things for the faithful: he's great, people today just don't realize how great he is. You know, kinda like Jesus.

While I agree with all the things on that list, it seems that time heals some wounds when it comes to presidential assessments. Tommy Jefferson had a pretty lousy second term as president, but we don't really think much about it. Maybe two-termers just get more props? Are there any two-termers who history now considers duds? (I think Nixon is a special case, what with him committing all them crimes.)

Otto Man said...

You should send that link onto your friend, Thrill, and see what he thinks. I bet the phrase "liberal academics" gets tossed out there.

Usually a second term is seen as a validation of some kind, but there have been exceptions.

Grant had two terms, but his overall record is now seen as one of unabashed corruption and cronyism, full of scandals that only came out towards the end. Credit Mobilier, Whiskey Ring, Black Friday.

And Nixon, like you said.

I think generally two term presidents are considered better than average because their reasons for getting re-elected are still seen as valid down the line. Bush not only won re-election by a hair (the slimmest margin of victory for a second term since Wilson) but has also seen much of his case for re-election fall apart in the aftermath.

S.W. Anderson said...

Good Lord, you mean 77 actually said he's doing a good job? Someone must've gotten to the punchbowl they were drinking out of.

In all this talk about bad presidents, I don't see reference to two Bush-league "winners," Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. The former vies with U.S. Grant for having the most corrupt administration, until now, at least.

Coolidge reportedly was actually mentally/emotionally unstable. Maybe that's why, of all the presidents, George W. considers Coolidge a hero. Bush even had the man's portrait hung either in the Oval Office or in the hallway outside.

Never mind that Bush's Jackson Square speech in September surely had ol' Cal doing about 1,000 rpm in his grave.

Otto Man said...

If Harding hadn't died from a brain anyeurism, I think the Harding-Coolidge years would certainly rank up there as the single worst two-term presidency.

I've never understood the conservative idolization of Calvin Coolidge. (Reagan said he was his hero too.) It's as if they think that everything that brought about the Crash and the Great Depression happened on Hoover's first seven months in office and had nothing to do with the supply-side policies of the previous eight years.

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

you mean 77 actually said he's doing a good job?

Let's consider the source:

The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record.

What good is an informal poll? especially one done by a second- or third-tier school? I'm thinking these guys, whoever would constitute a history news network, just called up their friends, and some of them were kinda drunk and thought they were being funny. yeah, dude, he's great. seriously.

Otto Man said...

This is actually how a lot of those "best/worst presidents" lists are conducted, so this is probably as good an indicator as any.

It looks like the poll asked if Bush was "failing" or "succeeding" so some people might have just tried to judge Bush's success rate at what he wanted, not whether it was wise or not.