05/21/2004: What do historians think of George W. Bush?
The short answer is: not much. The link gets you to the details of an interesting, though unscientific survey of professional historians, which shows that an astonishing 81% of historians surveyed consider the George W. Bush presidency a failure.
The author of this piece gives an interesting precis of why he thinks Bush is so bad:
My own answer to the question was based on astonishment that so many people still support a president who has:
My assessment is that George W. Bush’s record on running up debt to burden our children is the worst since Ronald Reagan; his record on government surveillance of citizens is the worst since Richard Nixon; his record on foreign-military policy has gotten us into the worst foreign mess we’ve been in since Lyndon Johnson sank us into Vietnam; his economic record is the worst since Herbert Hoover; his record of tax favoritism for the rich is the worst since Calvin Coolidge; his record of trampling on civil liberties is the worst since Woodrow Wilson. How far back in our history would we need to go to find a presidency as disastrous for this country as that of George W. Bush has been thus far? My own vote went to the administration of James Buchanan, who warmed the president’s chair while the union disintegrated in 1860-61.
- Presided over the loss of approximately three million American jobs in his first two-and-a-half years in office, the worst record since Herbert Hoover.
- Overseen an economy in which the stock market suffered its worst decline in the first two years of any administration since Hoover’s.
- Taken, in the wake of the terrorist attacks two years ago, the greatest worldwide outpouring of goodwill the United States has enjoyed at least since World War II and squandered it by insisting on pursuing a foolish go-it-almost-alone invasion of Iraq, thereby transforming almost universal support for the United States into worldwide condemnation. (One historian made this point particularly well: "After inadvertently gaining the sympathies of the world's citizens when terrorists attacked New York and Washington, Bush has deliberately turned the country into the most hated in the world by a policy of breaking all major international agreements, declaring it our right to invade any country that we wish, proving that he'll manipulate facts to justify anything he wishes to do, and bull-headedly charging into a quagmire.")
- Misled (to use the most charitable word and interpretation) the American public about weapons of mass destruction and supposed ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq and so into a war that has plainly (and entirely predictably) made us less secure, caused a boom in the recruitment of terrorists, is killing American military personnel needlessly, and is threatening to suck up all our available military forces and be a bottomless pit for the money of American taxpayers for years to come.
- Failed to follow through in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are regrouping, once more increasing the threat to our people.
- Insulted and ridiculed other nations and international organizations and now has to go, hat in hand, to those nations and organizations begging for their assistance.
- Completely miscalculated or failed to plan for the personnel and monetary needs in Iraq after the war, so that he sought and obtained an $87 billion appropriation for Iraq, a sizable chunk of which is going, without competitive bidding to Haliburton, the company formerly headed by his vice president.
- Inherited an annual federal budget surplus of $230 billion and transformed it into a $500+ billion deficit in less than three years. This negative turnaround of three-quarters of a trillion dollars is totally without precedent in our history. The ballooning deficit for fiscal 2004 is rapidly approaching twice the dollar size of the previous record deficit, $290 billion, set in 1992, the last year of the administration of President Bush’s father and, at almost 5 percent of GDP, is closing in on the percentage record set by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
- Cut taxes three times, sharply reducing the burden on the rich, reclassified money obtained through stock ownership as more deserving than money earned through work. The idea that dividend income should not be taxed—what might accurately be termed the unearned income tax credit—can be stated succinctly: "If you had to work for your money, we’ll tax it; if you didn’t have to work for it, you can keep it all."
- Severely curtailed the very American freedoms that our military people are supposed to be fighting to defend. ("The Patriot Act," one of the historians noted, "is the worst since the Alien and Sedition Acts under John Adams.")
- Called upon American armed service people, including Reserve forces, to sacrifice for ever-lengthening tours of duty in a hostile and dangerous environment while he rewards the rich at home with lower taxes and legislative giveaways and gives lucrative no-bid contracts to American corporations linked with the administration.
- Given an opportunity to begin to change the consumption-oriented values of the nation after September 11, 2001, when people were prepared to make a sacrifice for the common good, called instead of Americans to 'sacrifice' by going out and buying things.
- Proclaimed himself to be a conservative while maintaining that big government should be able to run roughshod over the Bill of Rights, and that the government must have all sorts of secrets from the people, but the people can be allowed no privacy from the government. (As one of the historians said, "this is not a conservative administration; it is a reckless and arrogant one, beholden to a mix of right-wing ideologues, neo-con fanatics, and social Darwinian elitists.")
Who has been the biggest beneficiary of the horrible terrorism that struck our nation in September of 2001? The answer to that question should be obvious to anyone who considers where the popularity ratings and reelection prospects of a president with the record outlined above would be had he not been able to wrap himself in the flag, take advantage of the American people’s patriotism, and make himself synonymous with "the United States of America" for the past two years.
That abuse of the patriotism and trust of the American people is even worse than everything else this president has done and that fact alone might be sufficient to explain the depth of the hostility with which so many historians view George W. Bush. Contrary to the conservative stereotype of academics as anti-American, the reasons that many historians cited for seeing the Bush presidency as a disaster revolve around their perception that he is undermining traditional American practices and values. As one patriotic historian put it, "I think his presidency has been the worst disaster to hit the United States and is bringing our beloved country to financial, economic, and social disaster."
Some voters may judge such assessments to be wrong, but they are assessments informed by historical knowledge and the electorate ought to have them available to take into consideration during this election year.
Len on 05.21.04 @ 08:23 PM CST