Rolling Stone has just published an article titled: Worst President in History? And for those of you who haven’t read the piece (and who don’t catch on real quick), I’ll assure you it isn’t about Millard Fillmore.
So, what do ya think? Will George W. Bush be remembered as the worst president in American History (assuming, of course, anyone’s left to do the rankings when he’s finally done screwing things up, far from a given)?
I vote yes, but then I’m biased. Having been forced to suffer through Bush’s fatal combination of hubris, incompetence and deceitfulness, I think it’s only fair that I at least receive the booby prize of claiming the distinction of having lived through (see important proviso above) the reign of the worst chief executive in the nation’s history. Having him ranked as only, say, the second or third worst president would be such a zero, like kissing your sister’s ugly dog.
But on a more serious note, I also think that we’re asking the wrong question here. In so far as it has any real relevance to our lives, the important issue isn’t whether Bush will someday be deemed by historians (applying their own subjective judgments) to have been the worst president in history: The question that matters today is whether, based upon the objective evidence, he is doing more damage to the nation than any other president ever has.
We begin, of course, with what was almost certainly the greatest presidential foreign policy blunder of all times, the decision to start the War in Iraq. The magnitude of the damage this entirely elective war is causing the United States is so widespread, and runs in so many different directions, it’s a hard issue to even get your arms around.
There’s obviously the human price: Thousands of Americans already dead, tens of thousands more injured (many in life-altering ways) and the very real specter of a whole generation of America’s servicemen and women being dogged by recurrent psychological problems.
There’s the cost in dollars — hundreds of billions (and probably into the trillions) of dollars — wasted as surely as if the greenbacks themselves had been gathered up and flushed down some giant toilet.
There’s the damage to our military infrastructure, with the decimation of the supply of young and upcoming officers, the wearing out of military equipment and the ongoing destruction of the military reserves.
But, unfortunately, the war is just the beginning of the damage Bush has caused. Who could forget such oldies but goodies, for example, as his series of fiscally ill-advised and morally reprehensible tax giveaways to the wealthy, draining the US Treasury, taking record surpluses and turning them into record deficits and mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures (and probably our own retirements).
Critical environmental issues have been ignored, most notably global warming, to the point where Bush Administration incompetence and deceit may actually be threatening the very survival of human life.
America’s reputation in the world stands fundamentally diminished. No longer perceived as a beacon of liberty, we’re now almost universally regarded as a bully, a torturer and a tyrant.
Old alliances, critically needed in the fight against terrorism, have been carelessly shoved aside under the unwavering flag of US exceptionalism and unilateralism.
The extraordinary opportunity for national unity in response to Sept. 11 was misused in the drive for partisan political gain, leaving a nation more bitterly divided than at any point in recent memory.
The wall separating church and state, a doctrine that has served this nation so well for so long, has not just been breached; whole sections have been knocked down with a battering ram, leading to the rise of crony religion, damaging the integrity of government and faith alike.
And we could go on and on.
So, given all this, can any of the former presidents traditionally viewed as being among the worst in history top Bush in terms of the sheer harm done the nation? Let’s take a very brief look at a few of them.
James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, consistently listed as being among the worst presidents in American history, were unquestionably weak and ineffectual; both badly mismanaged the issues of slavery and Secession in the years leading up to the Civil War. But in looking at the issue of the actual damage done, it seems unlikely that even the most gifted of presidents would have found a way to prevent the civil war, while at the same time solving the issue of slavery. Buchanan and Pierce’s undeniable failings probably cannot fairly be blamed for the conflagration that followed.
Warren Harding was an ineffectual president whose administration was dogged by scandal, but it’s hard to see how he did damage to the nation that even approaches the havoc created by the current incumbent.
There were other bad presidents, of course, but I personally can’t see how any of them damaged this nation to the degree Bush & Co. has.
And the really scary thing, of course, is that he still has almost three years left to work on really clinching the title. May God show us mercy.