Friday, April 26, 2013

Even Through Rose Colored Glasses, George W. Bush was Terrible

I don't see why we need to say nice things about George W. Bush these days. He presided over a decade of stagnant middle class incomes, the death of 3,000 citizens on US soil, led the United States into two wars which lasted a decade at a combined cost measuring $4 trillion, and left the financial service sector so deregulated that the entire world economy nearly imploded. About the best thing you can say is that in most of these decisions he was within the political Washington's political mainstream at the time. But that's an indictment of Washington, not a sensible rationalization of anything Bush did.

I keep trying to complete the sentence "Bush was the worst President since __________" and finding ways to claim that terrible presidents were better. Richard Nixon flouted the law, but so did Bush (the FISA act pretty clearly states that the entire warrantless wiretapping program is an impeachable offense), and Nixon ceded big chunks of domestic policy to the prevailing center-left mainstream. Warren Harding didn't have much going on, though he at least didn't totally suck on civil rights issues. A number of 19th century Presidents were awful on the issues of slavery, preserving the Union, and Reconstruction (Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes), so they might give Bush a run for his money. Lately people have been pouring haterade on John Adams, but pre-industrial America is just such a different place and time that I have a hard time evaluating how much good or bad an administration could do at the time.


Anonymous said...

For decades, I assumed I'd never see a worse U.S. President than Nixon. Then sometime in early 2004, I realized that I was looking at one.

The only President I've seen a good argument for being worse was Buchanan. I don't remember the argument, but it was strong enough that at the time, I didn't think either side of that argument had a really strong upper hand.

And John Adams? No way.


Nick Beaudrot said...

I really don't know about John Adams. A lot of people think the Alien & Sedition Acts were really awful, but I don't know (a) how bad they really were, or (b) how to weigh that against the rest of what Adams did. But I was just throwing it out there because of the Alien & Sedition Acts.

I know Buchanan was terrible. It's certainly possible that a post-Civil War 19th century President did some terrible stuff but I'm not enough of a historian. Warren Harding sucked a lot too.

But with my limited knowledge of history, I would guess Bush and Buchanan are almost certainly 1-2 or 2-1.

Will said...

Adams in contention for "worst"? Balderdash! Enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts was much lighter than the enforcement of the internment of Japanese Americans or the harassments of radicals in the Red Scare, to name two other wartime repressions. People make too big a deal out of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Adams's biggest fault as president was probably his habit of taking long and frequent absences from Washington. Second would probably his inability to recognize Hamilton's merits and leave Treasury in his capable hands. On the other side of the ledger, Adams negotiated and accepted a sensible peace with France at a time when the public was hungry for war. I'd say that for this, he compares favorably to both Jefferson and Madison, whose incompetent diplomacy led to a completely unnecessary war.

Will said...

Correction: Adams's absences were of course not from Washington, but from Philadelphia.