Historians Rank Bush -- Worse than ... ?

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The Washington Post asked four historians to rank President Bush.

Eric Foner says flat out that Bush is"the worst ever."

David Greenberg says that Nixon is still the worst but Bush's record is certainly comparable.

Douglas Brinkley ranks Bush with Hoover.

Vincent J. Cannato says it's too early to tell.

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Thomas Martin Sobottke - 12/7/2006

I think it is useful to remember Carter'S as a failed presidency. But then we have to measure just how serious were his failures.

While he did not get the economy on track,the Iran hostage crisis, an inability to delegate, and to work with Congress are major minuses,
he did get Anwar Sadat and Mr. Begin to shake hands instead of ordering another war in the Middle East. There is also his emphasis on championing human rights around the world.

And whatever you might say about Carter, that he remained a decent and honest man who respected his responsibility to defend and follow the United States Constitution cannot be doubted.

You simply cannot say that about George W. Bush.

And when Carter left office, the nation was surviving its inflationary run, and the Iran hostage crisis never destabilized the region the way the war in Iraq has.

I did a simple exercise. I and some friends went back from the present over each president who has served.

We asked the basic question: which one of these presidents would be worse than Bush II.

It was not an ideological or partisan exercise.

Richard Nixon had the best shot at saving Bush from a slide right past Daddy and well back into a much earlier period in American history.

We settled on Warren G. Harding as being worse. Lyndon Johnson might have done it due to Vietnam, but he put through key elements of the Second Reconstruction with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nixon had Watergate but was and remains demonstrably much more competent than the current occupant of the White House will ever be.

It seems to me that contemporaries knew that James Buchanan was a serious failure as president as early as 1860. At the time of Harding's death in 1923, I would imagine he had been similarly assessed by the American people.

Though we will not know for certain until a generation of historians with no connection to our time take up the pen, it is hard to imagine them seeing the war in Iraq and the declining position of the country in the world as anything but huge disasters.

Carter left office with the United States still largely admired around the world and still a superpower. Bush might not be able to do as well two years from now.

Thomas Martin Sobottke

Ross Kiser - 12/6/2006

Speaking of bad Presidents, I've noticed Jimmy Carter has been an active critic of the war against terror in Iraq. Have we forgotten that Carter presided over double-digit unemployment and inflation during the late 1970s--truly the worst economy of the past 60 years, and that he was a terrible leader in the face of the crises during his term? Have we forgotten that he suffered the worst defeat of any incumbent President since Hoover? A good way to quantify whether a President is bad is whether he was voted out of office. Carter lost in a landslide.

Patrick Murray - 12/6/2006

I have always thought of myself as a conservative military historian, a registered Republican teaching at a military school. Do I have to be a liberal to think our president is stupid and rash? Bush launched a war based on a false premise with too few troops that developed into an insurgency for which we were deliberately unprepared. To launch said war he pulled troops out of Afghanistan and endangered the seeming victory there, which virtually the entire world understood. So he failed to sequence operations. Have any other countries in the world gone to war on a tax cut? Then we violated the principle of unity of command with Bremmer and Sanchez in command in Baghdad when they refused to speak to one another. Eric Foner criticizes Polk for starting the Mexican War, but at least Polk sent enough forces to defeat the Mexicans. Bush confuses attributes with policy. He is easily the worst wartime president that this country ever had. It's way past the time that we let presidents drag us into wars without Congressional declaration of war that would debate the issues. I am tired of cynical presidents who use up the patriotism of our youth and our officer corps for wars that are not in our national interest. His father was smart enough not to go to Baghdad.

Clare Lois Spark - 12/6/2006

It would be nice if historians stuck to finding and evaluating new primary source materials, then presenting them to a broad public when big issues of diplomacy and public policy are concerned. What is this god-like ranking about? Sounds like group narcissism to me.
Of course ranking does lift the professional historian above journalists and all other pundits. Such are the ways of middle management.

Maia Cowan - 12/6/2006




University of Massachusetts?

Couldn't the Washington Post find any historians at the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute, or the Heritage Foundation? Or at least at reliably conservative universities -- Pepperdine, Hillsdale College, Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry University for Homeschoolers? I'm shocked, truly shocked, that the Post abandoned its policy of journalistic balance by not including at least one historian who's loyal to Bush. They could at least have asked David Horowitz for recommendations.

I guess Stephen Colbert is right; reality *does* have a liberal bias.

...Oh, wait. The HNN article omitted one of the historians published in the Washington Post: Michael Lind of the New America Foundation disagreed that Bush is the worst president ever. He says Bush is only the fifth worst.