By: E&P Staff
An Op-Ed in tomorrow’s Washington Post may set of an intriguing debate, pro and con. On the front page of the Post’s Outlook section, famed Columbia University historian Eric Foner proposes George W. Bush as the worst president in our history.
Foner opens by noting that such rankings have long been a favorite among historians, with changes in rankings (Truman up, Teddy Roosevelt down, etc.) setting off near-seismic rumblings. He describes some of the consensus losers, for example: “At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces….
“Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush’s presidency certainly brings theirs to mind.”
Then there’s Nixon, “mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.
“Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence.”
One other president bears comparison to Bush: James K. Polk, Foner writes: “Some historians admire him, in part because he made their job easier by keeping a detailed diary during his administration, which spanned the years of the Mexican-American War. But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States.”
Foner closes: “Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.”
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