If there is a renaissance in libertarian thought and Americans come to embrace freedom, peace, and sound economics, Bush will one day be remembered as a pathetic and terribly tyrannical president. Many of us will doubtlessly rejoice when the day comes that historians do not have the most admiration for the presidents who enact the most laws, spend the most money, and wage the most war.
It is fun to guess how Bush will be remembered until that day comes.
I have made some friendly, one-dollar bets with some pals of mine about whether Kerry or Bush will win this November. My guess is that it will be Kerry. Whoever wins, I predict that, given a continually statist outlook from historians and pundits, Bush will for years be compared to other presidents.
If Kerry Wins
George Lyndon Johnson Bush
The best we can probably hope for is that Bush will be a one-term president, at least somewhat discredited for his failure to achieve his supposedly well-intentioned goals.
I can feasibly see Bush going down in history similarly to Lyndon Johnson, as a big-spending war president who failed to maintain his base support but who enjoyed the loyalty of most Americans in his foreign adventures. Bush tried to have guns and butter, and you can’t have both — or so will say the neo-rightwing historians who admire his guns and shun his butter, as well as the leftwing historians who thought Bush’s guns tainted his butter and made it taste like bullets.
George Herbert Hoover Bush
The worst likely outcome would have Bush going down in history the way Herbert Hoover has: a clueless, "laissez faire conservative" who refused to increase government activity sufficiently in the face of a national crisis. Kerry has attacked Bush for doing "not enough" in the War on Terror.
If there’s another terrorist attack, we must hope and do all we can to ensure that it is not blamed on "non-intervention" or "isolation," just as many neocons blame 9/11 on an insufficiently aggressive foreign policy and pre-9/11 domestic surveillance unduly restrained by petty concerns for civil liberties — and just as many people blame the Stock Market Crash on laissez faire economic policies.
The typical story tells us that Hoover, bound by his laissez faire tendencies, failed to act as president to reverse the Great Depression. (FDR, on the other hand, erected a Mussolinian socialist corporate state with his New Deal, which, for some reason, many people don’t question regardless of FDR’s failure to bring anything like true economic prosperity and a comfortable standard of living to Americans during his entire twelve years in office.)
The conventional lesson is that Hoover didn’t do enough, and so the Depression continued. FDR at least tried.
What a travesty it would be if Bush becomes remembered for having not done enough to stop terrorism! What a disaster if Bush is one day lambasted for his squeamish foreign policy restraint, remembered as a man who fiddled while America burned when he should have been waging war on the "real terrorists" in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia — the way Kerry eventually would.
The real nightmare of this parallel is that if Bush is remembered as an ineffective Herbert Hoover, Kerry will have likely come to be remembered as an heroically activist president like FDR. Sure, John Delano Kerry didn’t stop terrorism any better than FDR stopped the depression, the future historians might concede, but at least he spent a lot of money trying!
And if Kerry’s FDR, that means his successor will be another Tru — oh I can’t bear to think of this anymore!
If Bush Wins Reelection
George Woodrow Wilson Bush
If Bush wins reelection, he might be remembered as Wilson has been. A hero to the historian? Sure. Flawed? Sure. Memorable to the average person many years from now? Nah. George W. Bush? Who was that? Did he do anything important?
Woodrow Wilson’s first term took the United States through some huge leaps in economic nationalization. The Federal Reserve and Income Tax hit America. He was belligerent and intrusive, like his immediate predecessors, in the affairs of Latin America.
And then in 1916 he won reelection because he "kept us out of war." Bush isn’t quite using this as his reelection slogan, but he has been talking about peace quite a bit more recently.
Wilson dragged America into World War I, the worst war the world had seen up to that point, a war with a destructiveness to American liberty rivaled by few instances in history. He drafted a couple million young men, censored speech, and nationalized the economy so thoroughly that the peacetime Progressive Era of a few years previous looked like a free market utopia by comparison. A professor once told me that World War I saw the creation of five thousand new government agencies.
Five thousand? The government shouldn’t even have that many employees!
Bush as a two-termer may indeed do his very worst in the second term. Unless…
George Richard Nixon Bush
We can only hope that if Bush wins he will very shortly thereafter be thrown out or pressured to resign in one way or another. Perhaps the office of the presidency will lose its aura of righteousness in the minds of Americans, just as it already has throughout the world.
And what if somehow Cheney is forced to quit, la Spiro Agnew, before Bush goes? We can only dream! The replacement for Bush would in such a case not be the frightening Cheney, but perhaps someone like Ford, who is mocked on Saturday Night Live for falling over himself and not having the ability to get anyone to take him seriously. Sure, Ford did some damaging things, but he lacked the prestige and respect to do too much harm.
It would take a new Ronald Reagan to make Americans have faith again in the presidency. Bush would be detested until he passes away, which for some reason always does wonders for a president’s image.
Indeed, I’ve noticed that leftist historians are beginning to have second thoughts about Nixon, who expanded the welfare state just about as well as Johnson did. Maybe one day such historians will look back and say, "You know, Bush II got a bad rap. It wasn’t really appreciated at the time, but he did quite a bit to move America toward Universal Healthcare."
Republican partisans will of course defend Bush until the end of time, just as they find all sorts of excuses for Tricky Dick.
Can We Hope?
It’s not an ideal future, but let’s just hope for now that Bush is remembered more as a Richard Nixon than as a Wilson or Hoover. The worst thing would be if Bush redefines the presidency as a handful of his predecessors did, and he goes down in history as a man who set the standard for future presidents to follow.
Of course, if we get that libertarian renaissance I was talking about, Bush should be remembered as a Wilson, a Hoover, or an FDR — just another president who expanded government in the face of crisis and traded American liberty for a false sense of security.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.