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?