“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.”— George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb10, 2008
As is the case with pretty much everything else, Bush is wrong about this. He has certainly “misunderestimated” how long it takes history “for us to reach”. There have been periodic polls asking historians to rank Bush’s presidency and he has always ranked in the lowest tier. See this 2006 article, for example.
But this week in an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, an unprecedented 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.
Of course, some will argue that historians are premature to judge Bush while he is still in office. Ordinarily, that argument makes sense, but Bush has been such a failure there appears to be no way that time will result in a reappraisal. It is not as if there is real debate about his ultimate ranking among historians. There is an overwhelming consensus that Bush has been a failure.
The latest Pew Research Poll has the President’s approval rating at an all time low among the American public. But, it is important to point out that that professional historians base their judgments on different criteria than the general public. As the author of the survey points out:
Historians are in a better position than others to make judgments about how a current president’s policies and actions compare with those of his predecessors. Those judgments are always subject to change in light of future developments. But that is no reason not to make them now.
I will let the historians speak for themselves:
No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.
With his unprovoked and disastrous war of aggression in Iraq and his monstrous deficits, Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct,” said another historian. “When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point—rightly—to the Bush presidency. Thanks to his policies, it is now easy to see America losing out to its competitors in any number of area: China is rapidly becoming the manufacturing powerhouse of the next century, India the high tech and services leader, and Europe the region with the best quality of life.
One historian indicated that his reason for rating Bush as worst is that the current president combines traits of some of his failed predecessors:
the paranoia of Nixon, the ethics of Harding and the good sense of Herbert Hoover. . . . . God willing, this will go down as the nadir of American politics.” Another classified Bush as “an ideologue who got the nation into a totally unnecessary war, and has broken the Constitution more often than even Nixon. He is not a conservative, nor a Christian, just an immoral man . . . .” Still another remarked that Bush’s “denial of any personal responsibility can only be described as silly.”
One respondent concluded:
It would be difficult to identify a President who, facing major international and domestic crises, has failed in both as clearly as President Bush.
His domestic policies have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled; of encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism; and of crippling the nation’s economic base.
George Bush has combined mediocrity with malevolent policies and has thus seriously damaged the welfare and standing of the United States,” wrote one of the historians, echoing the assessments of many of his professional colleagues. “Bush does only two things well,” said one of the most distinguished historians. “He knows how to make the very rich very much richer, and he has an amazing talent for f**king up everything else he even approaches. His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history.