Wednesday, April 19, 2006

RollingStone cover story: Worst President In History

Recommended at Daily Kos and Booman Tribune; Front paged at My Left Wing

Hot off the presses is the new Rolling Stone magazine and the cover story is by one of America's leading historians who, shall we say, has some not so nice things to say about Dear Leader.

While the general population, and especially us who are `round these parts, have our feelings about Chimpy and his merry band of criminals, I have been interested in what historians have to say about how much he has fucked up this country and world.

In May of 2004, there was a report by a number of historians that put Bush's first term disasters up against other presidents, and even back then the result wasn't pretty. And now, we have another leading historian give an updated (and unbiased) assessment of the hell that "The Decider" has wreaked upon us.

Before we start, why should we care what a guy named Sean Wilentz has to say? Well, according to his bio as a history professor at Princeton University, let's just say that he is very respected and very prolific with many awards, medals, honors and fellowships dating back to 1972.

Here is the cover photo:

Feel free to use it as your wallpaper or screen saver....

Anyway, the article starts off with a bang:

George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.

SMACK!!!! And this is from a guy who admits to many a debate with his colleagues over who was the worst president ever, with the typical names of Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover. Of course, as you can see from the link about, back in early 2004, Georgie-boy was already ranked among the worst by a number of historians in a number of areas. In fact, even back then, over 80% of the 415 historians surveyed called his presidency a failure.

He does caveat that there is some who would say that historians tend to be more liberal, but by taking that to the next step, Reagan, HW Bush and other republican presidencies are generally regarded on a similar basis by historians and the general population. To bring this point home further, Wilentz says the following:

The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. Separate surveys, conducted by those perceived as conservatives as well as liberals, show remarkable unanimity about who the best and worst presidents have been.

While we can come up with hundreds, if not thousands of reasons why Bush sucks and he is the worst, Wilentz is much more diplomatic than I would be. He puts the failures into four buckets: The Credibility Gap, Bush at War, Bush at Home and Presidential Misconduct.

The article is a long read, but certainly well worth it, and I will put some good snippets below just to whet your appetite.

Credibility Gap

Here, Wilentz talks about how presidents throughout history have either gained, lost or abused the public's trust. He contrasts James Polk's deviousness, as well as problems that caused Reagan, Truman and Clinton to overhaul their policies and staff in order to regain trust. And he says the following:

No previous president appears to have squandered the public's trust more than Bush has.


The problems besetting Bush are of a more modern kind than Polk's, suited to the television age -- a crisis both in confidence and credibility.


More than half the country now considers Bush dishonest and untrustworthy, and a decisive plurality consider him less trustworthy than his predecessor, Bill Clinton.


And given Bush's ardent attachment to loyal aides, no matter how discredited, a major personnel shake-up is improbable, short of indictments. Replacing Andrew Card with Joshua Bolten as chief of staff -- a move announced by the president in March in a tone that sounded more like defiance than contrition -- represents a rededication to current policies and personnel, not a serious change.

Pretty harsh and damning, especially in comparison to Lyndon Johnson and other presidents that have squandered the public trust.

Bush at war

This should be the area where Bush is the strongest, since he has hung his hat on being the "war preznit" and how he has made his entire presidency based on finding weapons of mass destruction and fighting terrorism spreading freedom around the world so we don't have to spread it at home. But Wilentz doesn't seem to think that he is doing such a good job. In contrasting Bush to other "war-time" presidents, especially those in the 20th century, he has this to say:

Bush's simple, unflinching eloquence and his quick toppling of the Taliban government in Afghanistan rallied the nation. Yet even then, Bush wasted his chance by quickly choosing partisanship over leadership.

No other president -- Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War -- faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonized the Democrats. Top military advisers and even members of the president's own Cabinet who expressed any reservations or criticisms of his policies -- including retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- suffered either dismissal, smear attacks from the president's supporters or investigations into their alleged breaches of national security. The wise men who counseled Bush's father, including James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, found their entreaties brusquely ignored by his son. When asked if he ever sought advice from the elder Bush, the president responded, "There is a higher Father that I appeal to."

It gets worse from there. Wilentz issues a scathing indictment of the administration by saying how they

were planting the seeds for the crises to come by diverting the struggle against Al Qaeda toward an all-out effort to topple their pre-existing target, Saddam Hussein. In a deliberate political decision, the administration stampeded the Congress and a traumatized citizenry into the Iraq invasion on the basis of what has now been demonstrated to be tendentious and perhaps fabricated evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat to American security, one that the White House suggested included nuclear weapons.

Bush At Home

This is an area where Bush is chewed up, spit out and stepped on by Wilentz. He starts off by talking about his hollow promise to be a "compassionate conservative" and his end run to the far right. And then he goes on to rip Dear Leader a new one:

The heart of Bush's domestic policy has turned out to be nothing more than a series of massively regressive tax cuts -- a return, with a vengeance, to the discredited Reagan-era supply-side faith that Bush's father once ridiculed as "voodoo economics." Bush crowed in triumph in February 2004, "We cut taxes, which basically meant people had more money in their pocket." The claim is bogus for the majority of Americans...

He talks about how horrible the jobs growth has been, describing it as "anemic", how there has had to be a major increase in federal fees, how real wages are dropping for many Americans, how deficits and borrowing is at record levels, and how business investments have been sluggish.

On the rest of his "domestic agenda", the picture isn't much better. Here are a few more quotes:

The rest of what remains of Bush's skimpy domestic agenda is either failed or failing -- a record unmatched since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The No Child Left Behind educational-reform act has proved so unwieldy, draconian and poorly funded that several states -- including Utah, one of Bush's last remaining political strongholds -- have fought to opt out of it entirely.


White House proposals for immigration reform and a guest-worker program have succeeded mainly in dividing pro-business Republicans (who want more low-wage immigrant workers) from paleo-conservatives fearful that hordes of Spanish-speaking newcomers will destroy American culture.


But no president before Bush has allowed the press to disclose, through a close friend, his startling belief that he was ordained by God to lead the country. The White House's sectarian positions -- over stem-cell research, the teaching of pseudoscientific "intelligent design," global population control, the Terri Schiavo spectacle and more -- have led some to conclude that Bush has promoted the transformation of the GOP into what former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips calls "the first religious party in U.S. history."

Don't worry, Katrina, global warming, censoring of scientists'"inconvenient conclusions" by the EPA, the FDA, the Department of Agriculture and other agencies, even calling Bush "hostile to science".

Presidential Misconduct

Here, Wilentz starts off by admitting that many, if not most presidencies are plagued at one time or another by charges of misconduct within the administration. He even cites George Washington (and no, not for illegal wiretapping), Grant, Reagan, Clinton, Nixon and Andrew Johnson.

But with respect to these criminals, he does mention Libby, Larry Franklin and the AIPAC scandal, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, David Safavian and how this could be the "largest Congressional corruption scandal in American history".

He holds the strongest words for the disregard of the Constitution's limitation of presidential powers:

History may ultimately hold Bush in the greatest contempt for expanding the powers of the presidency beyond the limits laid down by the U.S. Constitution.


By contrast, the Bush administration -- in seeking to restore what Cheney, a Nixon administration veteran, has called "the legitimate authority of the presidency" -- threatens to overturn the Framers' healthy tension in favor of presidential absolutism. Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president's powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. No previous wartime president has come close to making so grandiose a claim. More specifically, this administration has asserted that the president is perfectly free to violate federal laws on such matters as domestic surveillance and the torture of detainees.

He also talks about the congressional double standard with respect to how the Repugs acted when Clinton was being impeached - even naming Bill Frist and Tom DeLay as those who were quick to defend Bush while condemning Clinton.

The close of the article is interesting in that it still leaves open the possibility of, well, who knows what for the next few years. But there is not a favorable comparison to Andrew Johnson, Buchanan and Hoover, three that are generally ranked at the top of the "shittiest presidents ever" lists.

And while we all know this and can point to many many things that support it, it is always interesting to see what someone that does this for a living thinks. And to have a new article in a publication like Rolling Stone by a very prominent historian will keep the spotlight on the crimes of this administration.

I know I like to see it from someone of that stature.

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