As a Ph.D.
in American history, I think it is safe to say that George W. Bush
will go into the history books as the worst President in American
Let me assure
you, I do not share this view. Any President who can start and then
lose two brushfire wars, thereby revealing for the whole world to
see that the American empire is a spent force, can’t be all bad.
Afghanistan, as far as anyone can see on TV, is a war over headgear:
turbans vs. Karzai’s furry Nehru hat. (Whenever I see a photo of
Karzai, I recall a 1960s-era comic photo of Nehru, looking like
a Good Humor man, with the caption: “Would you like cherry vanilla?”)
has combined his remarkable military strategy with his Medicare
prescription legislation, which will bankrupt Medicare at least
a decade sooner than otherwise, he gets my grudging respect.
any President who can run budget deficits in the $400 billion range,
year after year, thereby speeding up the bankruptcy of the Federal
government, deserves credit — unlike the U.S. Treasury.
That this President
singlehandedly has undermined the American public’s trust in the
Federal government’s ability to establish and enforce both American
foreign policy and domestic welfare policy — well, Bush’s performance
is simply breathtaking. Taft conservatives and libertarians have
been dreaming of someone like George W. Bush for four decades.
All this was
accomplished by a man who visibly represents America’s elite: a
graduate of the Harvard Business School and a member of Yale’s Skull
& Bones. In terms of his credentials, George W. Bush is one of the
best and the brightest. If you are thinking, “The elite has clearly
lost its ability to screen itself,” I can only concur.
sound you hear is the bottom of the barrel.
In my undergraduate
days, there was a tight race for the worst President between Grant
and Harding. Both of their administrations were plagued by corruption
scandals. Yet I am aware of no historian who blamed either Harding
or Grant of having deliberately promoted corruption or having profited
from it. Both of them were pictured as nave men who did not understand
the powerful lure of government money for corrupt purposes, a relationship
that apparently occurs only under Republican Presidential administrations,
according to textbook accounts.
In recent years,
Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson have replaced
Grant on several lists. These three have one thing in common: they
did not invade the South to destroy slavery. Johnson attempted to
limit the effects of military Reconstruction after the war. Buchanan
is nevertheless ranked lower than Pierce or Johnson, for he had
the audacity to delay the war, a policy that clearly bordered on
Bush has come
out of nowhere — or its ready substitute: Crawford, Texas — to
make it onto several lists as the worst President of all time. I
hope to explain why in this report.
For lists of
winners and losers in a series of Presidential retroactive sweepstakes,
I have a theory
of the modern Presidency. I believe that men — and one determined
woman — seek this office for one reason above all others: to get
their pictures on those Presidential calendars that are on public
school classroom walls but no others. This is the closest thing
to immortality that an American can earn. The rest of the lures
of Presidential power are peripheral: here today, gone tomorrow.
But those calendars are forever — the American religious equivalent
of Egyptian pyramids.
that Presidents live for posthumous recognition. They want to be
treated well in the history textbooks.
Mr. Bush has
good reasons to worry. The paragraphs that he will receive will
dwarf the opprobrium heaped on Richard Nixon. Nixon wrote his way
back into favor as a foreign policy statesman in the 1980s by promoting
the globalist agenda in a series of best-selling books. He also
received retroactive credit for the re-establishment of official
relations with Communist China in Mao’s era. That is the sort of
thing that deeply impresses liberal academic historians. It did
not impress conservative historians — either of them.
Bush is unlikely
to initiate anything for which the historical guild will provide
It is not just
failed policies that draw the wrath of historians. It is also the
absence of style. The media have as their credo, “Style covereth
a multitude of sins.” Jack Kennedy is the incarnation of this creed.
Historians, who are part of the media, also adopt it. Teddy Roosevelt,
the fiery trustbuster with teeth like a grand piano, gets applause
for his crowd-pleasing style. His successor, William Howard Taft,
who busted more trusts than Teddy ever did, had the style of a Solicitor
General, which he had been, so he receives little credit in the
In my generation,
two Presidents have been the consummate losers in the Presidential
style sweepstakes: Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush. They both
seem completely ill at ease in front of a microphone. Johnson’s
rhetorical inabilities were legendary. “Mah Fellow Amuricans” became
the stuff of stand-up comedy routines.
The photo of
Johnson lifting his shirt to display his recent gall bladder operation
scar became the representative image of his Presidency. He was crude,
gruff, and pushy as no President had ever been in public. But he
bullied Congress into passing the kind of legislation that liberals
favor, so he got a free pass for his domestic policies. It was Vietnam
that sank him, but only after he was visibly losing the war. In
1964 and 1965, he was also given a free pass.
There was a
reason for this. Liberals in the Progressive mold respect political
power. It is the only thing they do respect. They turn against political
leaders only when it is clear that the leaders have failed to implement
power on a scale that destroys — sometimes literally — all those
who oppose them. Long forgotten is the widespread admiration by
Western intellectuals and political leaders — liberal (pre-1952)
internationalist lawyer John Foster Dulles comes to mind — toward
Mussolini and Hitler before World War II.
This is not
something that we read about in textbook accounts of the 1930s.
This is because liberals write the textbooks. Every historian has
a memory hole. American intellectuals’ respect for fascist economics
and Nazi eugenic policies — copied from the American sterilization
laws that were ratified by Buck v. Bell (1927) — went down the
guild’s memory hole only after 1936 — if then.
George W. Bush
is not quite so verbally incoherent as his father, but at times
he sounds really stupid. His father did not sound stupid. He sounded
like a man who tripped over his tongue. Much of the time, the son
sounds as though his brain has gone AWOL.
Yet Bush is
not stupid. His memory for names and faces rivals that of Clinton,
which is legendary. He graduated from Yale University and Harvard
Business School (MBA). No one does this who lacks IQ. But Bush does
not seem to possess the ability to make informed judgments based
on a consideration of conflicting evidence. Most politicians possess
this skill. Indeed, it is basic to their success. Bush lacks it.
For him, 2 plus 2 consistently make 5, except when they make 3.
style is another reason why the historical guild will savage him.
Historians pride themselves as being able to weigh the available
evidence. They do so only retroactively, of course, long after any
personal risk of taking disastrous action is gone. They are drawn
to people who seem to weigh the evidence before taking decisive
action. Bush takes decisive action, but his actions produce the
opposite of what he says they will and actually seems to believe
they will. This is the predictable effect of most government policies.
Bush just makes the discrepancy more visible. For this, he is despised.
He will not
admit a mistake — another sign of weakness. A man of real power
can admit mistakes because he can destroy those who would profit
from them. Bush cannot destroy anyone except civilians in Iraq and
Afghanistan. So, the media now smell blood. Like chickens, they
attack the defenseless to peck it to death.
Bush is not
getting pecked to death because he is a conservative. He is anything
but conservative. What outrages historians is that Bush is now calling
into question the two icons of political liberalism: America’s foreign
policy empire and its national welfare state. He is revealing in
plain view that both are costly shell games. Both are bankrupting
the Federal government. Both are visibly going belly-up. This appalls
historians. They worked so hard for seventy years to herald these
policies as the Wave of the Future. Bush is turning both of them
into the elephant burial grounds for the Council on Foreign Relations.
What the historical
guild holds most in contempt is failed power. They respect power,
which is why Stalin and Mao have always received, if not free rides,
then grudging respect for “making progressive things happen” and
“pushing history forward.” But Bush is not making progressive things
happen. He is making progressive things backfire in full public
view. He is revealing exactly where the liberals’ version of history
has always been moving: toward centralized power, reduced freedom
(except sexually), increased government debt, and wars against foreign
civilians that cannot be won in a world of price-competitive, low-tech
weapons. George W. Bush is actively pushing the original Progressive
agenda of 1898, but he is pushing it over a cliff.
The Left hates
him for this.
George W. Bush
will probably live long enough to see his name at the bottom of
the list of all American Presidents: the worst this nation ever
produced. But when asked to defend reasons for his overwhelming
failure, the historians will scramble for answers acceptable to
the ideology of the guild. They dare not say, “He broke the post-World
War II American empire that Franklin Roosevelt launched and Harry
Truman put nuclear teeth into.” They must find alternative wording.
They will mumble something like this: “He overreached the available
military power.” Ho, hum.
is Bush’s other failure: “He bankrupted the Federal government by
turning control over to Asian central banks.” Again, alternative
phraseology will be developed. “He did not set realistic domestic
The real reason
for the media’s hatred of Bush is this: “He has imprudently and
without verbal grace smashed the Progressive agenda on the rocks
of reality.” Too forthright.
So, how can
the historians tar and feather him, if all he did was push the Progressive
agenda too far and too fast? With this: “He was a conscious agent
of the Christian Right.” The fact that none of his advisors is a
card-carrying member of this vast theocratic conspiracy will not
matter. Bush is seen as a fellow traveler, even though he, like
Clinton (on occasion), attends a United Methodist Church.
will do to Bush what Bush said he would do to Osama bin Laden. They
will bring him in “dead or alive.”
I think he is already DOA.