What Will Be Bush's Legacy as President?

With one year to go in the Bush presidency it is time for political pundits and reporters to start writing articles assessing his successes and failures. You are guaranteed to see a few articles interviewing presidential historians for their learned view on this question.

The first response from these historians is usually ”œIt’s too soon to tell.” This is the same thing as saying ”œSome day in the future an academic doing a job just as important as mine will tell you how George W. Bush ranks. In the meantime, would you like to read my book on Franklin Pierce?”

When pressed, these historians will provide you with their list of the five greatest and five worst presidents, and see where Bush falls on this spectrum. The trouble with these lists is that the historians tend to give equal standing to all presidents: James Buchanan started out with just as much of a prospect of being a great president as did FDR. But of course this isn’t exactly true either, so the historians will tell you next that to be a great president you have to have been a war president.

This is the first thing that went wrong with the Bush presidency: he listened to these historians even before he got into the Oval Office.

Reporters who knew him in the 1990s have testified to his fascination with being a war president, because otherwise greatness would elude him. One of the major reasons the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq and the War on Terror in general is that Bush wanted a war in order to position himself as an FDR or Lincoln. It behooves Bush to describe these wars as defining historical events wherein the entire existence of the United States is at stake.

To figure out the Bush presidency, historians are not the right people to consult anyway. I’ve mentioned in these pages many times that the definitive biography of George W. Bush will be written not by an historian, but by a psychiatrist. The first time I realized this was when I watched Bush do his victory dance on the carrier Abraham Lincoln. This wasn’t a show for you or me ”“ this was a performance for one person only, Poppy Bush. Dubya was establishing his credentials as a true war hero just like his Dad, and an avenger of the Bush family name following the disgraceful failure of his father to finish off Saddam Hussein. The entire Bush presidency can be explained only by understanding the complicated psychological dynamic between father and son. It’s also why the Founding Fathers distrusted monarchy, and why Hillary Clinton has a potential to be a failure as a president.

The right way to gauge the success or failure of the Bush presidency is to ask the question: which president has come into office with any greater advantages? Bush entered the Oval Office with the greatest military machine ever created at his disposal. No other president could claim to be head of a hyperpower, unchallenged across the global politically or militarily. He was titular leader of the Free World, first among equals at any G-8 conference, inheritor of a century of goodwill following two world wars in which the U.S. came to the rescue of victims against the aggressors. These were unprecedented geopolitical advantages never imagined by any previous president.

Morally, the United States still had a reputation as a beacon of freedom, the representative par excellence of democracy in action, the country of immigrants where opportunity awaited the millions who flocked here every year from countries all across the globe. The U.S. economy was the most dynamic and inventive, and Bush was sitting on a sizeable federal budget surplus that no president had enjoyed in at least one hundred years.

It’s not enough to say that Bush squandered all these advantages. His damage to the U.S. goes well beyond that. He and his administration deliberately, obtusely, arrogantly, and with appalling blindness to how the world worked or the consequences of their actions, went about destroying these advantages one by one. Readers of the Agonist already know the laundry list of disasters brought to us by the Bush administration, the low points including the wealth-draining waste of the war in Iraq; the failure to vanquish al-Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan; the refusal to treat the terrorism problem as one requiring coordinated global police action, rather than military action; the use of torture; the abandonment of fundamental human liberties such as the right to habeas corpus, representation by a lawyer, public trial, confrontation of witness, etc.; the inability to protect a major U.S. city from environmental destruction and the refusal to rebuild this city afterwards; the reversal of a federal budget surplus into a massive budget deficit; the runaway asset inflation in the housing market; the loss of exclusive reserve currency status for the dollar; the destruction of post-war alliances in Europe and Asia; the growth of a current account deficit approaching $1 trillion a year; the collapse of the U.S. military as a realistic threat on the global theater; the expansion of nuclear weapons during his term of office to rogue countries like North Korea; and the growth of dependency on hydrocarbon energy in the U.S.

In every case, the Bush administration created these problems or made them worse. This was done sometimes deliberately, sometimes through neglect, and often through arrogance, deceit, secrecy, illegality, incompetence, cupidity, and crushing ignorance.

No other president has entered office with such advantages, and then proceeded to destroy them all and set the United States on a path of decline that may well last a century. This alone qualifies George W. Bush as incontestably, unarguably the worst president in the history of the U.S.

If you were George W. Bush, and if you have a modicum of self-doubt and self-awareness, this judgment ”“ awful though it is ”“ would be the least of your worries. Bush stands uniquely poised to be the first American to achieve historical infamy. This is infamy on a grand, epic scale, lasting not for millennia but for eternity. It is not the evil infamy of a Hitler, but more the willful blindness of a Nero or Marie Antoinette, the type of infamy that turns into fable as a lesson for all humans.

I refer, of course, to Bush’s legacy on global warming. If the worst predictions on global warming come true, the earth’s climate is inescapably hurtling towards 10,000 years or more of climate change for the worse; in which many species will perish and the human imprint on the planet may shrink drastically. Bush did not cause global warming, so he cannot be tarred with accusation of evil and malice, but he did more than ignore it. His administration went out of its way to denigrate the science explaining global warming, and to deny its existence, challenging the motives of any who worried about it. In the eight years that he had, if he had exercised global leadership for meaningful action on carbon emissions into the atmosphere, perhaps the severity of global warming could have been mitigated.

We won’t know, perhaps even in our lifetime, whether the direst predictions of global warming will come true. But the portents are ominous and highly suggestive that global warming is accelerating beyond even the worst case of many models. Historically the Americans will stand indicted as the greatest polluters of all, at least so far, and George W. Bush will stand as the greatest fool among all Americans when it came to facing the most important challenge ever confronting our species.

Unless, of course, you count all those fools who voted him into office twice.

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Numerian is a devoted author and poster on The Agonist, specializing in business, finance, the global economy, and politics. In real life he goes by the non-nom de plume of Garrett Glass and hides out in Oak Park, IL, where he spends time writing novels on early Christianity (and an occasional tract on God and religion). You can follow his writing career on his website, jehoshuathebook.com.

20 CommentsLeave a comment

  • tell us what you really think.

    Good post, succinct and imminently possible. Tho I have to admit to feeling like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind when around repubs who are just unable to get their heads around his massive failures and multiple betrayals of his office.

    “I beseech you in the bowels of christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”

  • but I do have all too many family who are, for which I embarrassed.

    “I beseech you in the bowels of christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”

  • comes to mind. I don’t usually talk politics with her, but in ’04, I asked her what she thought of the presidential debate the night before, the one where he had the outline of a box on his back. She said, ‘Oh, I don’t need to watch that! I know who I’m voting for. I watched the football game.’
    Safe to say that there are a lot of politcal vegetables out there.

  • that would have little real problem with your analysis. Some of them might have been the loudest shouters back then.

    One way some old-school fathers tackled early forays into vice in their young sons was to say “so you’re old enough to smoke and drink, son?” and sit down with them and make them smoke cigars and drink whiskey until they threw up. Naturally I mention that more for its metaphorical than parental value :D.

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • was that someone didn’t tell him, “All great presidents eat lots of pretzels.”
    “Adapt or perish.” Murphy’s Law? Nope, Darwin’s Guarantee.

  • Bush is harming most of the rest of the world, too. What, I wonder, does the rest of the world think about his legacy and his actions’ impact on them?

    He is so reviled that I wonder where he will go and what he will do after his presidential reign (no pun intended) is over. Will he be captured and tried in an international court for war crimes? What will happen to others in his mafia who travel abroad? There are already attempts to charge Rumsfled. What about Cheney, Addington, Rice, Hadley, Wolfowicz, Rove, Feith, etc.?

    What about the damage he is doing to the Army and the military? Even as the military industrial complex profits at obscene rates, the actual military is close to broken. Will the military act to stop this? Could the country tolerate such an action? Can it tolerate continued compliance with the war mongering Cheney/Bush team?

    What about we the people? Is our voice already silenced? Are the corporations our masters?

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – are those just tattered words in a redacted document?

    Bush’s legacy is one of wanton destruction. His name will never be forgotten.

  • History has a way of making the most corroded slug look like a shiny silver dollar.

    When Nixon died, all of the nomenclatura came out and practically promoted the bum to sainthood. And no one dare say anything bad about St. Ronald these days.

    Bush will be a hero of Democracy; you can count on it.

  • Only the neocons. Not an incosequential group of people by any means, and some of them will certainly be pushing revisionist history asserting that Iraq was justified and successful. But can they keep this going for 30 – 50 years? And if Iraq really can’t be labeled a success in the mind of anyone with just an ounce of sanity, the neocons can fall back on their current stance and blame Bush’s incompetence.

    For Bush to be exonerated, America would have to pick itself up here and now and restore itself to its previous glory in the next five or so years. Otherwise it’s just a long painful march to losing hyperpower status and having to share the globe with other powers because U.S. resources will be so limited. Even then, that doesn’t cover over Bush’s depradations against the Constitution and civil liberties or his general incompetence in so many areas.

    Nope, I just don’t see it. Bush is one ugly pig no amount of lipstick will be able to beautify.

  • If W’s great…great uncle had been foolish enough to give up drinking, he could’ve done far more than simply make the Civil War inevitable!

  • Bush did not appear in a void. He was launched as a masthead figure of a huge ship of fools. Americans came together in a nasty brew of ignorance, arrogance, greed and just plain bad judgment to create a FrankenFuehrer like Bush. Religion helped a lot, as preachers led their sheep by the millions to vote for him while they lied about his legacy. Huge corporations didn’t really care what Bush said in public; what mattered was that here was the stooge that would stand in the door whistling Dixie while they cleaned out the American house and home. And all the war profiteers suddenly got religion too when they realized here was a whole administration whose existence was dedicated to endless profits from death and destruction. An entire generation of Anti-American Freedom Haters took over the reigns of government with the sole intent of destroying all the ideas this country was founded upon, and replace it with a lawless oligarchy held in place by Dark-Ages theology.

    The Bush legacy is the abandonment of the Enlightenment, the abolishing of the sciences, a return to a tyranny in which the naysayers are tortured by the very same techniques used down the centuries to slaughter the heretics.The return of rule by a dynasty above the law in every way. Wars for profit and plunder, hate crimes, spying on our own people, lists of citizens to be rounded up and packed away in gulags or secret foreign torture chambers, fraudulent elections, – these are things the neocons and their buddies the Reconstructionist Christians dreamed of bringing onto America.

    And they nearly succeeded, leaving behind a government too feeble to fix itself, a great gap between the classes, and a divided citizenry.I have been around for nine presidents and 12 election cycles. There’s absolutely no question that Bush II was the worst, by a long shot, of any of them.

    But really it doesn’t matter whether he’s the first or second or third worst.

    What matters is the wounded nation the neocons are leaving in their wake, and what we do to fix ourselves during the next Presidencies. If we can’t rise to that challenge, our days a superpower are numbered, and we surely will never regain our greatness.

  • ( but seriously, he’s got one more year on Iraq, and “public perception” of it)

    With multiple resignations and the loss of the Republican majority in Congress, many of President Bush’s accomplishments failed to make the news. Here are some of the high points of this year in the Bush administration:

    Feb. 10—Left a crowd outside a batting cage in Baltimore feeling proud to be Americans

    March 5—Received his 30-day chip from Alcoholics Anonymous

    April 8—Hid Easter eggs so effectively that no child could find them

    April 15—Donated $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund by ticking box on tax return

    June 16—Finally finished fixing up that old ’67 Chevy that had been on blocks on the White House front lawn

    Aug. 14—Said “Ahmadinejad” correctly without looking at palm

    Sept. 14—Bagged lunch, which helped knock $65 off of $9 trillion debt

    Oct. 1—Worked so hard all day, didn’t realize it was 5:15 p.m.

    1.”George Washington did not cross the Delaware for Capitalism,” -Shmuley Boteach.
    2.The Dems haven’t punished the GOP enough, so you’re going to reward the Republicans?

  • The president is planning a heavy travel schedule in ’08, to promote his foreign-policy successes.

    WASHINGTON – George W. Bush, the globe-trotting president.

    For the first seven years of the Bush presidency, such a description would not have fitted a chief executive who limited overseas travel and preferred to set the tone of his foreign policy by which world leaders he invited to his Texas ranch rather than by the foreign capitals he chose to visit.

    But throughout his final year in office, all that could change. Mr. Bush’s passport will get a lot of new stamps, and Air Force One will be busy crossing oceans as the homebody president shifts to a boots-on approach to making his mark on the world.

    Bush will launch into this new global mode early in January, when he will make a seven-country, week-long tour of the Middle East. Aside from visiting Israel – for the first time as president – and the Palestinian territories, he’ll make stops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

    Then in February, Bush heads to sub-Saharan Africa, where he will highlight his administration’s role in the global fight against AIDS and in focusing foreign assistance and development funds on the most efficient, corruption-fighting democracies. After two international summits – NATO in Bucharest, Romania, in April, and the Group of Eight economic summit in Japan in July – Bush will attend the Beijing Summer Olympics in August.

  • his absence gives the perfect opportunity to change the locks on the White House doors.

    Or simply painting the White House a different color should do the trick.

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • najor failings for the Bush administration have only come about because nobody has thought to give Cheney a nice new hunting jacket with a very strong magnet stitched inside the left breast pocket.

  • …as we know it. At a time when the human species stood at the precipice ready to fall into the abyss, Bush gave it a shove. This failure at everything he ever tried lived up to his resume in spectacular style. But of course, Bush was just the perfect tool of unvarnished greed. His puppet master, Cheney, was not nearly as evil as portrayed since he too had masters, the mega rich individuals and organizations that couldn’t leave the orchard without picking every apple and after turning it into a parking lot.

    Nothing good came from the Bush administration. Nothing good came from “free markets” other than for the very few who had the freedom to steal.

    And it all relied on an open effort in two elections to put the loser in the winner’s circle.

    Pathetic! Who needs Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and the rest of the 400 richest and who needs the Fortune 500 captains of industry if they’re not smart enough, awake enough to recognize that Bush-Cheney were literally ending the world, not just this country; if they’re not smart enough to get rid of him by unleashing their tool of control, the mainstream media?

    Bush is the worst leader ever and the US financial and power elite are the worst elite in the history of the world. They had a critical task, stop the plunge into carnage that is inestimable. They failed and, it can be argued, by that failure accelerated catastrophes that we can’t begin to imagine.

    Colbert was right when he looked out at the collected fools at the press dinner in DC and said: “You disgust me.” They laughed nervously, but those of us who saw it, the virtually uninvited, knew what he was saying… literally.

  • my only question to you would be….do you believe that BushCo really and truly believe in the BS they pander to the ignorant, or do you think he is simply using a template that was set in place long ago by the Council of Nicea?
    I happen to think that no one who has amassed the sort of power that he has amassed could be so ignorant to actually believe the BS behind his “dark-ages theology”. The sheep are so easily lead…it just takes someone to come along without a conscience to use the lie in order to justify whatever is desired. Religion is dangerous, but so is politics. Neither is good for the people…and sadly they go hand in hand. I have still yet to see a major political figure claim to not believe in fairy tales (i.e. religion). They all seem to figure “why not..it works..it keeps them down and keeps them from questioning authority?”.

    while the existence of gOD is a ridiculous thought (i compare it to adults who still believe in santa…better be good or else no presents), it is also something that is impossible to either prove or disprove.

    In my opinion, as long as we are willing to blindly believe in fairy tales and live our lives as such….there will be people, like Bush, who will come along and use this lie to get whatever they want.

    We, as humans, need to wake up and realize that there is truly nothing special about us. We aren’t exempt from death as we like to believe. We are all here, and as “Hippy” as it sounds….we, along with all the plants and animals and nature, MUST learn to live with our own mortality. Until we realize this, we will continue to be duped by those “in the know”.

  • I think it is closely connected to his drinking problem. Assuming somewhere around age 40 he decided to quit drinking completely and suddenly, he is what alcoholics call a dry drunk. He’s retained some of the belligerence and narcissism of a drunk without drinking. But the price he has paid for that is a Manichean view of the world where everything is black or white, people are friends or enemies, there is only good or evil, either you are completely sober or you are not (and the slightest sip of alcohol can send you to perdition). So I suspect every day is a test for him to stay pure, clean and good, otherwise he falls into the abyss.

    This way of thinking and acting informs his approach to the terrorism problem, by dividing the world into good and evil. No room for gray of any kind, no room for subtlety (“I don’t do nuance”), no problem is too complex that it can’t be boiled down into choice A or B, which is how his staff is told to shape the policy memos sent to him as the Decider.

    He believes this stuff about good and evil because it is how he must live his life. The White House staff feeds off the CEO’s character traits so this way of thinking goes down the chain of command.

    I don’t think he views himself as a liar or manipulator. Sadly for him, a lie can exist in the minds of the listener as well as the teller, and millions of Americans long ago stopped believing what he says. That was the point, by the way, when his presidency ended and he lost the confidence of the nation. It started slowly with the WMD issue in Iraq and built from there. Sadly too, Bush will never recognize he has this problem, merely that the poll numbers are down.


  • i believe you’re right.

    However, much like the lesson Orwell attempted with “1984”, and Lucas with THX-1138….we’ve done this to ourselves. we like to point blame regarding the horrible state we are in, when in reality we have done this to ourselves. there is no “big brother”. there is no single evil character who caused all these problems. we are all big brother. while we may not all be evil, we allow evil to exist and squash our independent and free-thinking nature. it seems to go against our survival instincts, or does it merely cater to our survival instincts?

    we truly are the worst thing to happen to this planet.

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