Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Worst President Ever?

There's been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere lately about whether or not George W. Bush will go down in history as the worst president this country has ever had.

Unless you've spent the last five years in a wonderful waking coma, you're well familiar with the president's long record of incompetence, corruption, cronyism, and criminality. Even if you completely agree with his goals, it's hard to find anything that's gone right on his watch. I'm pretty sure even the T-Ball Field he established on the White House lawn was built on top of an Indian burial ground.

Since we're all familiar with the record of King Midas in Reverse, let's consider the competition.

In terms of incompetence, you've got to look to James Buchanan as the gold standard, since he basically sat on his hands as the country drifted steadily towards civil war. And the guy on the other side of Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, is pretty close, though his meddling in Reconstruction was a deliberate act of assclownery and not exactly incompetence. Still, he did get impeached for it.

In terms of corruption and cronyism, the administrations of Ulysses S. Grant and Warren Harding are both at the top of the list. Harding surrounded himself with old friends with no qualifications for office, and his term ended with several officials imprisoned (including the first Cabinet Secretary to go to prison) and several more committing suicide to avoid prosecution. Grant was about as bad, but in his defense, he was pretty well snockered most of the time.

In terms of criminality, Harding's back in the mix, since his attorney general did a flourishing business in graft, kickbacks, bribes, etc., and only escaped prosecution by burning all his files. Richard Nixon is in there, too, of course, given the crimes underlying Watergate and his direct involvement in the cover-up. (Conservatives would likely point to Bill Clinton here, but there's much more smoke than fire there. For all the hand-wringing over Whitewater, Travel Office, FBI files, Monica Lewinsky, Bruce Babbit, and the Michael Espy investigations, those "scandals" resulted in zero convictions. Compare that to the 32 convictions of Reagan administration for Iran-Contra, the HUD scandal, and illegal lobbying.)

What ultimately might push Bush to the forefront is the fact that he makes a strong showing in each of these three categories. Incompetence? Look no further than the failure to take the pre-9/11 warnings seriously, the stunning lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, and the bungling of everything from the Medicare prescription rollout to No Child Left Behind. Corruption? The no-bid contracts to Halliburton, the payments to Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and company for positive coverage, etc. etc. Cronyism? Harriet Miers, Michael Brown, and countless other hacks. Criminality? Scooter Libby, Claude Allen, and a president who brags about breaking the law and promises to do it again. And there's so much more. (Seriously, check out the Americablog link above -- over 1200 comments so far listing the administration's scandals and mistakes.)

I know Bush thinks that history will vindicate him, but I think the further we get from his administration, the worse it'll look. Not just in terms of the ramifications of his smashing-the-beehive approach to foreign policy, but more importantly in terms of the ways in which he's gutted this country's infrastructure, weakened the military, chased away competent officials from all branches of government, and set us up for a fiscal reckoning that could be truly catastrophic. Plus, he's got three more years on the job to do even worse.

So, yeah, I think he's got a decent shot at winning this thing. What do you think?

17 comments:

Tokyo Joe said...

I truly believe that Bush's legacy is tied directly to the ouctome of Iraq. Not just how it is doing now, but what state the country will be in about 20-30 years. If they actually manage to pull their shit together (because of or in spite of US involvement), Bush will ultimately get the credit. However, if they fall into the status quo that is the middle east (a back ass region of the world that is more concerned about the evils of seeing a woman's knee than human dignity or individual rights), then Bush will get the blame.

Of course, there will always be those who will claim that Bush either didn't have anything to do with the success or the downfall. They will point to the many other factors involved. But for my money, this is the one point that I believe will either make or break him 30 years from now.

S.W. Anderson said...

"What ultimately might push Bush to the forefront is the fact that he makes a strong showing in each of these three categories."

Which is why he's known in Republican circles as an "all-around guy."

S.W. Anderson said...

TJ, Iraq will be the cornerstone of Bush's legacy, no doubt about it. But whether Iraq survives as a country and develops a working democracy or slips downward and backward into being a thoecratic client state of Iran, Bush's legacy is going to be one of obstinacy and failure.

Somehow, maybe due to being in shock after 9-11, Americans were subject to a suspension of disbelief from 2002 to the summer of '05. Like the 9-11 attack, that lapse played into Bush and the neocons' hands.

Historians and authors won't have that liability when making their assessments. They'll see a president who, for whatever reason, attacked the wrong country, deliberately misled the people about Iraq being linked with al Qaeda and created and deepened rifts with our traditional allies.

Historians will not be kind about the manipulation of intelligence people and their work.

Historians will see a president who avoided dealing effectively with the real hotbeds and spawning grounds of Wahabism and jihad, who utterly failed at sensibly evaluating and realistically dealing with the post-invasion situation.

To top that off, historians will see the mismanagement, political posturing and spinning, and the bungled execution every step of the way.

I think that as surely as Bush will be judged on the basis of Iraq, history will put him down as ill suited for the job and in over his head intellectually from the start; unquestionably a failed president from day 1 of his second term on.

Otto Man said...

I agree that Iraq will loom large for Bush the same way Vietnam looms large for LBJ, but historians will judge Bush for what happened on his watch -- the false case for the war, the too rosy scenarios for being welcomed as liberators, the lack of planning, the premature celebration of "Mission Accomplished," etc. etc.

Vietnam is now a stable, peaceful country with ties to the West, but historians don't draw a line of causality between that current state and American involvement. If Iraq winds up a peaceful, democratic state, I'm sure Bush will get some credit but it won't be enough to shake the blame for all that went wrong on his watch.

Norbizness said...

I'd vote for him for that limited purpose. Of course, I'm in Texas, and we learned that there's always somebody gubernatorially worse (Rick Perry) around the corner.

Mr Furious said...

We don't need to get all old-timey and talk about stovepipe hats and powdered wigs to judge what a piece of shit Bush is. He is clearly the worst President of our lifetimes. And I say that with the assurance that holds true for anybody who could possibly read this.

A couple things...One can not undersetimate the cult of personality factor and the skew that will go into the recording of this time in history. (See Reagan, Ronald).

I think there is a very real possibility that there will almost be a bipolar history from here on out. Red states will have their history books and blue states will have theirs.

Most of Bush's missteps will be qualified by the state of mind (panic) of the country in the aftermath of 9/11. That will serve to essentially absolve him of much of the blame for Iraq in my opinion. He took desperate measures in desperate times. Much like Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus is swept under the rug, if we get out of Iraq with any semblance of success (or lack of complete and total blowback), Bush's means will be overshadowed by the ends. Or more accurately, neither the means NOR the ends will be accurately judged.

There is more than enough blame to go around in terms of self-reflection to allow Bush to enter the history books much more unscathed than he deserves.

He got away with all of this because the country, media and the rest of the government sat by and let him. Taking Bush fully to task requires far more of a look in the mirror than I believe this country is capable of.

Mr Furious said...

However, if IRAN or one of the other countries Bush ignored in favor of Iraq comes to present a serious threat or manages to do us harm, all bets are off. In that case, Iraq will be Bush's historical albatross.

Or if Iraq devolves into such a state that it throws the whole region in turmoil, Bush will rightly be fingered as the catalyst.

Those two things remain to be seen.

Neither of which deal with the complete domestic fiasco that turd has been.

Otto Man said...

Very good point, Mr. Furious, but I'm not sure the post-9/11 climate of fear will give him much cover since he was its greatest enabler. Bush took the paranoia and instead of calming Americans and appealing to their best instincts (think FDR in the Depression and WWII) he used it to advance his agenda and beat down his political opponents as un-American.

The parallels to the Red Scare are instructive here. Joe McCarthy wasn't the only red-baiting anticommunist of the early 1950s, but it's greatest practitioner. And he's certainly seen in a piss poor light by historians today.

Thrillhous said...

I really don't know how bad old dead presidents were; never did all that much history larnin'.

Like Mr. F, I think a lot of it will have to do with who writes those histories. Maybe the last few years are an aberration, but it sure seems like we are leaving behind the kind of discourse in which consensus opinions can be formed.

That aside, I think I'm inclined to think Bush is the worst ever. His "pick" for VP seals the deal.

Mr Furious said...

Thanks for reminding us of that little gem, Thrillhous. I know I often forget that Bush didn't even pick his own fucking runningmate/VP.

Resolute. Makes the tough choices. etc. What a goddamned joke of a man he is.

Otto Man said...

I didn't catch the press conference live today, but I'm told Bush made some comment about "what they told me to say" about Iraq.

He's suck a fucking puppet he doesn't even mind pointing out the strings.

jurassicpork said...

Very cool post and a good overview of "President" Bush. So good, in fact, that I'm linking to this tonight. I'm devoting my blogwhoring weekly edition to the contestants who'd offered punchline in my Assclowns contest, so stay tuned.

S.W. Anderson said...

As a sort of down payment on what Bush's historical postmortems may be like, I'm seeing a tentative, anemic but still noticeable shift in the mainstream media's willingness to point up his obvious lies and attempts to mislead.

His statement yesterday in Ohio about not saying Saddam was allied with al Qaeda has been followed by replays, even on Bush-friendly CNN, of Bush making statements where he did exactly that. And Cheney, too, for good measure.

Let's not forget that even more than was the case when Johnson and Nixon were in the White House, Bush's statements are out there on videotape for historians to refer to.

Otto Man said...

His statement yesterday in Ohio about not saying Saddam was allied with al Qaeda has been followed by replays, even on Bush-friendly CNN, of Bush making statements where he did exactly that. And Cheney, too, for good measure.

Yeah, that's been nice. Olbermann ripped him a new Cheneyhole.

Let's not forget that even more than was the case when Johnson and Nixon were in the White House, Bush's statements are out there on videotape for historians to refer to.

Agreed. The video trail is too deep to deny.

Pooh said...

The parallels to the Red Scare are instructive here. Joe McCarthy wasn't the only red-baiting anticommunist of the early 1950s, but it's greatest practitioner. And he's certainly seen in a piss poor light by historians today.

Except when he's not. I saw "Good Night and Good Luck" a few weeks ago, and as I was walking out the people in front of me were having a discussion of whether Joe was all that bad...(and yes, one of them did cite Teh Evil Blonde One)

Otto Man said...

My favorite tidbit about "Good Night" was a story that some test audiences complained that the guy portraying McCarthy was "overacting too much."

Priceless.

Tom Hilton said...

What ultimately might push Bush to the forefront is the fact that he makes a strong showing in each of these three categories.

Exactly--he's no one-hit wonder, he's a full-service multi-faceted terrible president. Looking at it within a more limited time frame, Bush manages to combine every single bad attribute of both of the worst presidents (Reagan and Nixon) of the last 50 years, without having any of their (very few, very limited) positives. That kind of negative achievement is truly breathtaking.