It’s not Bush, Stupid! Polling “The Worst President”


Mr. Ruddin holds an LL.B; MRes (International Security) and a PgCert (History: Imperialism and Culture).

Well before the ink had dried on Sean Wilentz’s article in Rolling Stone, lefty blogosphere’s were in meltdown sounding off the problem–plagued presidency of George W. Bush. This is compounded by the accompanying mala fideswebsite. Yet, since the Princeton historian’s piece ran last May we have been caught in a torrent of historians (a Nobel Prize laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner and a Mayor) that have taken to pouring their ink pens handcuffing him “to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder”. We may “dismiss the findings as the mere rantings of a disaffected professoriate”, however, it does raise a more fundamental question–and one that historians seem loath to raise.

Arthur Schlesinger is the godfather of this scholarly spate. This professor–like pastime is as modish today near sixty years on from when the Harvard don asked 55 historians to rank US presidents. For in 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the History News Network found that eighty–one percent considered the Bush administration a “failure.” The discomforting aspect of the appraisal lays in the sheer number of “failure” parallels (to illuminate Bush’s incompetence) from a catalogue of US presidents. Oxymoronically, the conclusion of Historians vs. George W. Bush reads that, “The reasons… historians cited… the Bush presidency as a disaster revolve around their perception that he is undermining traditional American practices and values.” Erm… have we not just endured a nauseating entrée to your “traditional American practices and values”?

Christian Reconstructionist Gary North callously posits that, “Historians will do to Bush what Bush said he would do to Osama bin Laden. They will bring him in dead or alive.” What is more, this college–cum–country club pursuit is no longer exclusive to your Ivy League workshops–for US midterm results have been the midwife to an academic ripple across the Atlantic (seeing as the Independent asked British–based experts–and readers alike–to similarly cast their votes).

Op–eds appearing in the Washington Post last December feature a repertoire of cerebral historians grading Bush’s performance. Nevertheless, stalwarts of the Bush administration are indulging in a touch of historical revisionism themselves. For next month’s Commentary contains a lengthy article by Joshua Muravchik on Jimmy Carter entitled: “Our Worst Ex–President.” Bush’s confidants must have whispered in his ear the latest scholarly shenanigans, given that he addressed this exact issue in his end–year traditional news conference:

Look, everybody’s trying to write the history of this administration even before it’s over. I’m reading about George Washington still. My attitude is, if they’re still analyzing No. 1, 43 ought not to worry about it, and just do what he thinks is right, make the tough choices necessary.

Stefan Halper, a senior fellow at Cambridge enunciates that (in the  Independent vote), “It is easy for people to make strong emotional comments and to say, Bush is the worst president that the US has ever known…, but that would be pretty short–sighted. That would be ignoring the lessons of history.” The former presidential aide is spot–on. Though, we do not intend to correlate Bush’s performance with “the competition” here. Rather, the point now is that we cannot single out Bush as “The Worst President” for (in foreign affairs) he is not a revolutionary–but rather continues the US foreign policy tradition.

As a substitute, a poll could ask whether the US has “The Worst Foreign Policy in History?” For if one is to indict Bush they must homogeneously haul up (posthumously) an anthology of US presidents. Coincidently, the current edition of the Atlantic Monthly (January/ February 2007) runs as its chief piece, Carl Cannon’s “Untruth and Consequences: From Washington to FDR to Nixon, presidents have always lied. Here’s what makes George W. Bush different.” This is damning–indeed institutionally damning–evidence cataloguing the sweep of presidential misrepresentation. Nicholas von Hoffman's article ("The Worst President Ever") in the Nation mirrors the Atlantic Monthly's piece-highlighting that you have"had a whole string of bozos." However, considering the historic practice of regime change, ingrained presidential “Piety along the Potomac” and the Lockean “prerogative” of the commander–in–chief; one reasons that the label is obsolete and Bush cannot be found guilty of being “The Worst President” by a jury of historians. Ironically enough, it is history that serves as Bush’s defence–though history paradoxically incriminates “The Presidency” as an institution.   

Let us now take each in turn.

Conscious of the matching rush of omnipotence experienced by both McKinley and Bush alike (in 1899 and 2002 respectively) it is not so straightforward to single out the latter to face impeachment. If modern events incriminate Bush we must affix his spiritual co–conspirator (McKinley) to the charge sheet–in view of the fact that Bush is nihil novi. The invasion of Iraq was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110–year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments (see Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow). By considering these operations as a continuum rather than as a series of unrelated incidents, it becomes evident what they have in common. There was a man who peered over Bush when announcing the US invasion of Iraq. It was not The Messiah but rather McKinley from a grandiose oil painting on the wall behind him. Theobold Chartran’s historic print depicts the first American practitioner of “regime change.”

One does comprehend that labelling someone as “religious” is akin to calling them “radical” or “revolutionary” because the term often implies a certain lack of detachment and rationality. Yet, considered in the larger context of all the occupants of the Oval Office, Bush’s faith is neither revolutionary nor threatening to the Republic. History instructs us that Bush is not unaccompanied in his employment of moral and religious rhetoric. Walter Russell Mead in God’s Country? (Foreign Affairs September/October 2006) writes that, “Evangelical political power today is not leading the United States in a completely new direction. We have seen at least parts of this film before: evangelicals were the dominant force in US culture during much of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth.” Consequently, if Bush is to take the stand, then the presidencies’ of 1, 7, 15, 17, 26, 39 and 40 must (posthumously) be summoned to court where historical revisionism can begin in earnest.

Commentators and bloggers alike slam Bush for ostensibly riding roughshod over Congress resuscitating Nixon’s “Imperial presidency.” However, it is Harry Truman who is the genuine revolutionary breaking fresh ground with his interpretation of the powers of a president and commander–in–chief. In Korea, for the first time, the president had engaged the nation in major combat operations without the benefit of a prior declaration of war by Congress. Post JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis there was an established pattern for future commanders–in–chief of freezing out Capitol Hill until decisions on strategy and tactics were formulated. Bush’s Lockean “prerogative” is only the latest in a long line of presidents, starting with George Washington and of all political stripes, to have pushed his interpretation of the role. This executive–legislative confrontation will endure long after Bush departs in 2009; for the debate is institutional not individual–again rendering “The Worst President” label archaic and stupid!

Unlike former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, we do not seek precedents to refute any allegations of wrongdoing; rather we refute the revolutionary brand and the verdict of Bush: “The Worst President.” As a corollary, “The Worst President” label must be consigned to the rubbish bin of history, along with the polls which most avidly fostered it.   

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    More Comments:

    Tim Matthewson - 2/19/2007

    It is often said that President Bush is very concerned about the fate of Iraq because his reputation, that is, his legacy,is intimately tied to the future of Iraq. As Iraq goes, so goes President Bush's reputation, legacy, and honor. But, if this is true, is the president not asking American soldiers to fight and die for his honor, reputation, or legacy. Is it honorable to ask another man to die for your or our reputation? As John Kerry said of an earlier war, how would you like to be the last man to die for a mistake?

    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/17/2007

    The Post is a relatively trustworthy source. How would you suggest that I improve on it?

    Rob Willis - 2/17/2007

    It is not a game, it is reality. Prove the source, or go away.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/16/2007

    I'm not going to play this game.

    President Bush's attempts to change the definition of torture to allow techniques such as those documented in the article is a matter of public record.

    Alas, so has the corrupting influence of that desire, as it let loose the actions of others.

    Rob Willis - 2/16/2007

    No, I do not. Vett the source, the prisoner, and the circumstances. Prove it.

    R. Willis

    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/16/2007


    Even if Bush's policy was right; his implementation has been an abject failure. Saddam was overthrown, but his overthrow has lead to a highly predictably chaos, and neither he nor the military leadership that he placed there were ready for it.

    That does not make him the worst president. He has almost two years to do better. For all our sakes I hope that he does.

    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/16/2007

    The example I provided above is a clear case of torture. Don't you agree?

    Jason Blake Keuter - 2/16/2007

    Yet another parallel: Lincoln was regarded as an anti-slavery extremist by Southerners yet not considered extreme enough by core Republicans. Sounds a little bit like Bush and the religious right. I guess the difference is that Lincoln eventually became an outright abolitionist while Bush has (like all recent Republican Presidents) been mostly a disappointment to the religious right.

    Jason Blake Keuter - 2/15/2007

    If Bush was what the critics wanted him to be he would:

    1. Listen more to the oppostion party in Congress. Sort of like Lincoln listened to Copperheads and Confederates? Or like Jackson listened to the Whigs? Perhaps we have Roosevelt listening to Republicans in mind? Before someone drags out how Reagan worked with Tip O'Neil, stop. Tip O'Neil was the majority leader; the majority leaders for most of Bush's years were Republican.

    2. Never go to war.

    3. Check with radical Islamists and radical American leftists to see if his policies are okay.

    All of the things Bush does that people hate indicate that he shares the characteristics of most great Presidents. We don't know if he will be or won't be - most of those who are regarded as great today were loathed and reviled by their opposition.

    The historians eager to rank Bush low are part of that opposition and were before Bush was even elected. In other words, they aren't really historians because their political bias prevents them from honestly assessing past presidents and coming up with a more balanced assessment of Bush. He may indeed "fail", but he'll certainly fail trying an idealistic policy. Many leftist historians routinely criticize Roosevelt and John Kennedy for their pragmatism and "gradualism" in the face of civil rights challenges (and in Rooselvelt's case, in terms of what they wished would have been his socialism). Bush is doing what these historians advocate: taking a radical position that goes to the root of the problem. Redoubling their efforts once they've forgotten their aim, the former "new" historians now plead for pragmatism and realism - in other wrods, they advocate everything in a President they've always criticized.

    Rob Willis - 2/14/2007

    What is torture, sir? I wait for a precise, (non-Webster) definition from you, the expert.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/13/2007

    How about not simply utilizing torture but attempting to legitimize it?

    See this example on how the corruption implicit in this spread.

    D M Jordan - 2/12/2007

    Please point out specifics. It is very easy to speak in generalities, but they tend to be more emotionally charged--as I suspect this is.
    How has Bush declared he is above the law and the Constitution?
    When has Bush had disregard for innocent lives? (I believe the difficulties we've had in Iraq stem from tying the hands of our troops and trying to fight a precision-guided war that does not have a lot of collateral damage. While it still does occur, more instances can be recorded of inaction due to the proximity of innocent lives.) If you are suggesting a different disregard, please specify.
    In what ways has he abused the privileges of his office? Or neglected his responsibilities?
    I might concede he has politicized government offices, but... NEWSFLASH... this is what Presidents do. It may not be right, but it is the point of the article that criticism is more justifiable against the office and policy, not the man (thus the same criticism as worst might have been heard about Clinton, or GHWBush, or Reagan, or Carter, or Ford... but wait, they were charged as the worst at the time by their political opposites. Amazing.)
    How has Bush shifted the tax burden from the wealthy to wage earners? (Said enough times, it might be true, but yet, whose taxes have been raised in this period (and who still pays most of the taxes, and who has seen their tax liability reduced to zero)? And, though Bush might support tax cuts for EVERYONE, my Constitution reads that Congress has the power to tax, so how does that make Bush evil?)
    As for coequal branches, I agree that Congress has not provided enough oversight, but is Bush supposed to force them to check on him? And remember, they are also Separate, with Separate responsibilities.
    And with a free press, and one that is generally highly critical of him, how has Bush preveneted the people from knowing what is going on? Is he to force people to read the news? If you are referring to national security interests, I agree that they should be held confidential (and the Founders agreed with such secrecy... read your Constitution in Article I about publishing journals and the like). Frankly, from what pieces of information that have leaked, I am tempted to say that there is intelligence information that would exonerate Bush, but it would not be in the nation's interest to release it. Gee, how about that for an idea, President Bush looking out for the country more than his approval ratings.
    Again, provide specifics if you think this man is the worst to hold the office, or clarify if you think the system is flawed.

    Maia Cowan - 2/12/2007

    For each of the offenses against democracy of which Bush is accused, Mr. Ruddin provides one or more examples of other presidents who have done that same thing. Is there any other president, however, who has committed ALL those offenses? It is the cumulative effect of Bush's belief that he is above the law and the Constitution, disregard for innocent lives, abuse of the privileges of his office, neglect of the responsibilities of his office, politicization of government offices, shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy to the wage earners, contempt for Congress' Constitutional role as an equal branch of government, denial of the people's right to know what the government is doing, etc., ad nauseam, that makes Bush the Worst. President. Ever.

    John W Bland - 2/12/2007

    You speak and yet you weave the wind. I'm not knowledgeable enough to adjudge Bush's palace (oops) in history or whether usurping other nations is our historic trend (I think it obviously is.) My concern is that he is so far successfully destroying what is left of the constitutional republic old Ben spoke of—US. I had not imagined living to see the death of the America I grew up in and love in spite of itself.

    The past, as they say, is prologue. Right NOW we have a devil-in-drag pathologically lying, possible mentally deranged pair of unspeakables in the presidency. The constitution, as I understand it, requires that they be impeached, possibly rendered, tried and convicted of war crime, crimes against humanity, international treaty which specify such actions as subject to the death penalty, and continued defiance of the congress and the constitution itself. The failure of congress to act probably means that I will live to see the death of my country, old as I am.

    When I was young I stood astonished at Hitler's successes. Now it is no mystery to me. Rove, Himmler, megalomanics . . . history goes round and round.

    Bill Youngs - 2/12/2007

    I still vote for George Bush. Teddy Roosevelt was right that the Presidency is a bully pulpit, an excellent perch from which to educate the American people on reality and purpose.

    Bush mislead the American people big time on the links between Iraq and 9/11 and WMD, and he trivialized all the good science on global warming. Review his speeches bullying the UN and advocating at invasion of Iraq at places like Mayport Naval Station in Florida (I taped it) and see our presidency at its very worst....