Eric Foner: Taken to task by right-wing critic for rating Bush the worst president

Historians in the News

[Mr. Tyrrell is editor in chief of The American Spectator.]

[HNN Editor: Recently in the Wa Po Eric Foner opined that President Bush is the worst of the chief executives in US history: Pierce, Buchanan, A. Johnson, Harding, Coolidge and Nixon.]

... Onto this junk heap of inferior presidents he now heaves George W. Bush. Note, nowhere at "the bottom rung" does he place Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Carter blundered both in foreign policy and in economic policy, leaving office with interest rates at 21.5 percent, inflation at 13.6 percent and unemployment at 7.1 percent. Americans abroad were embarrassed to show their passports, and at least 52 were being held hostage in our Tehran embassy. Clinton got himself impeached by practicing the same abuse of power and ithyphallic compulsiveness that some of us reported he had practiced as a mediocre governor of Arkansas. Clinton's economy was healthy (save for its bubble), but that was mainly because he followed Republican economic policies. His plan to "grow the economy" via the reduced interest rates that he promised from a balanced budget (balanced mostly through military cuts) failed. Interest rates went up.

Foner adjudges Bush 43 guilty of all the failings of his aforementioned inferior presidents. Then he throws in an invidious comparison of Bush with President James K. Polk, whose Mexican-American War still embarrasses the Columbia University historian. Don't get him started on our acquisition of Alaska!

How does one respond to such tendentious pish-posh? It would do no good to mention Bush's vibrant economy with historically low unemployment, steady growth and a stock market at historic highs. Nor would the professor be persuaded that Bush's tax cuts brought the economy from the mild recession he inherited from Clinton and the attacks of 9/11 that he might also have inherited from Clinton. Foner utterly ignores the Bush administration's reform of the military that now allows us to project force around the globe and with little of the inter-service redundancy, thanks to retiring Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bush has successfully pursued a war on terror, reversing Clinton's procrastination. Iraq has proven to be problematic but only because Bush is pursuing the idealism of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman in attempting to spread democracy. Had he been Machiavellian enough to topple Saddam and hand the country over to its generals or some other circle of power I doubt Foner would applaud.

The present administration has undertaken other admirable endeavors such as Social Security reform. Though now at a standstill, Bush's efforts surely will fetch the admiration of future historians. Clinton's neglect of Social Security is already under the historians' fire. May I direct Foner to James Patterson's recent volume in the Oxford History of the United States covering the Clinton years? Bush's inchoate efforts at healthcare reform are also admirable. Yet Foner remains unimpressed. He has, in his eagerness to answer a stupid question, revealed himself to be a hopeless partisan. ...

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