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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Historians: Bush presidency "battered," "incompetent," "unlucky"

Georgebush2 Via CNN, historians are claiming that the George W. Bush presidency will go down as "incompetent":

With record low approval ratings and intense criticism for his handling of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the economy, the word most used to label George W. Bush's presidency will be "incompetent," historians say.

"Right now there is not a lot of good will among historians. Most see him as a combination of many negative factors," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

"He is seen as incompetent in terms of how he handled domestic and foreign policy. He is seen as pushing for an agenda to the right of the nation and doing so through executive power that ignored the popular will," he added.

But like so many presidents before him, Bush's reputation could change with time.

Read the rest.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on November 6, 2008 in U.S. politics | Permalink


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If Nixon can rebuild his reputation, Bush can too. Every president - or world leader - faces difficult decisions. I think it is difficult to be a good president, and nearly impossible to be a great president. To do that, one needs to face a great crisis (Civil War, Great Depression, WWII, Cold War, etc) AND succeed, and also to be remembered for doing so. This seldom seems apparent in the short-term; Harry Truman was hated after leaving office but opinion soon turned in his favor. Some like Herbert Hoover remain disliked; in his case no one, not even Hoover himself, defended his actions. That's why the opening lyrics to the theme song to "All in the Family" mention Hoover - to show that Archie Bunker was VERY old fashioned and conservative.

Bush will be redeemed before long. He'll never be liked by all, but enough will change to see him as a leader who had to make difficult decisions.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-06 6:29:46 PM

Do people intentionally select images where Bush looks stupid?

I'm not sure whether he looks dumber in your picture or CNN's.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2008-11-06 7:05:50 PM

Even if Iraq is a shining gem of democracy and freedom in twenty years, I think Bush's stock will fall even further once the full extent of his unconstitutional behavior becomes clear. His twisted legal theories on the role of the executive, torture, search and seizure, and the thorough abuse of signing statements will reveal the Bush administration's contempt for the rule of law and expose the threat that he has posed to the very fabric of the United States Constitution.

The events that Bush had to deal with were certainly terrible, but 9/11 offered as much opportunity as it did catastrophe. America had the support of the entire world, and the nation came together looking for leadership.

A great president could have turned that into another American golden age, completely turning the page on Vietnam once and for all. A competent president could have at least tread water, holding back the tide of crisis and using the national and international support to great advantage. Bush completely squandered the unity and good will and ran the country into ruin.

Bush is quite possibly the worst president the United States has ever seen. Even Harding had the good sense to sleep most of the day instead of causing damage.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2008-11-06 7:52:51 PM

But like so many presidents before him, Bush's reputation could change with time.
Posted by P.M. Jaworski on November 6, 2008

Once the War Party hijacked his presidency he was finished.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-11-06 8:39:29 PM

If a debate begins on Bush's legacy, then the potential for improvement exists.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-06 9:29:52 PM

Hey, voice of reason what would you have done? Don't criticize, please give specifics too many Bush haters trash talk instead of presenting logical alternatives.

Posted by: Bob | 2008-11-06 9:59:38 PM

Everybody keeps using Truman as an example of a possible Bush resurrection. They are only using Truman as an example of low ratings when he left office....I beleieve we need to go further...examine why Truman was considered a great president.People are just citing an example of a lowly regarded president like Bush and say (hope) he gets a better treatment. Truman never let his vice president run a sub rosa presidency the way Cheney did with Bush. Cheney and his group did things behind Bush's back..Bush's problem is that he knew//sensed this was going on but never called him on it.Truman would NEVER HAVE ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN..Read: "Angler: The Most Secretitive and Powerful Vice President in American History:

Posted by: JUSTICE | 2008-11-06 11:48:11 PM


1. Stayed in Afghanistan and caught bin Laden rather than starting a second war.

2. Appointed people based on merit rather than cronyism. This isn't an ideological complaint. Harriet Miers for SCOTUS? Come on.

3. Come out unequivocally against torture. Sometimes the good guy needs to fight with one hand tied. It's not fair, but it's what makes him the good guy.

4. Got warrants for surveillance. FISA allowed immediate wiretapping with retroactive approval, with no warrant requirement at all when the targets weren't US persons. Where's the need for unauthorized wiretapping?

5. Recognized that the separation of powers is as essential today as it was when the Constitution was drafted.

Need I go on?

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2008-11-07 12:17:39 AM

"Need I go on?"

Yes. That's a rather specious list. What about the appointment of John Roberts as Chief Justice? That was a merit appointment - he was almost born to be on the court - but for some reason Myers gets more attention.

Like I said above: a debate means the potential exists to improve his reputation in the future.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-07 5:18:33 AM

Further to your "points". I read that W made over 700 challenges to Constitutional law. We'll never know what they all were, but a President who calls the Constitution "Just a damned piece of paper" is not even an American as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: JC | 2008-11-07 6:12:55 AM

Two of the greatest presidents, Lincoln and FDR, repeatedly stretched the Constitution to achieve their goals. Maybe doing so is a good thing, not a bad one. You Canadians are ones to talk about this: you people revere Trudeau (curse his name), the worst human rights violater in your nation's history. The man suspended human rights and deployed troops to your streets like he was Pinochet or leader of a banana republic. For shame. I suggest that you amend your constitution to include a specific provision forbidding martial law under any and all circumstances.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-07 6:25:46 AM

"You Canadians" "you people" "I suggest that you"
Posted by: Zebulon Punk | 7-Nov-08 6:25:46 AM

The Punk has reverted into his holier than thou I'm gonna pretend be an American. Dissociative Identity Disorder can be treated Punk.

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-11-07 6:40:50 AM

You Canadians are ones to talk about this...
Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 7-Nov-08 6:25:46 AM

When did you become an American?

And Lincoln, truth told, was an absolute bastard and tyrant....who stretched the Constitution.
The Constitution was wrtitten to restrain executive power...wanna be dictators are the only ones who need to "stretch" it.

And btw...I AM an American, (living in Calgary) I actually voted in this last election. How about you?

Posted by: JC | 2008-11-07 6:45:30 AM

VOR wrote: “1. Even if Iraq is a shining gem of democracy and freedom in twenty years, I think Bush's stock will fall even further once the full extent of his unconstitutional behavior becomes clear...”

1. According to the courts, many experiments in gun control, including presumably Clinton’s, were grossly unconstitutional. That pretty much pillories the entire 1990s Democratic caucus. Bush is neither the first nor last politician to bend the Constitution. The Constitution remains in force and not one of its amendments has been deleted.

2. The sympathy the U.S. received as a result of 9/11 was only temporary and would have been in any case. The zeal and aggressiveness with which America has always defended her interests, as well as her wealth and cultural power, have always provided others with ample reasons to envy and dislike America.

3. Are you saying that Clinton, who has achieved rock-star status among the baby boom generation, would have turned 9/11 into a new golden age? The same Clinton who could have had bin Laden in the Sudan and let him go? The same Clinton who swept countless problems under the rug to be dealt with by his successor, and who issued over 100 highly questionable pardons as his last official act? Or perhaps you had Carter more in mind, who couldn’t even rescue a fistful of hostages? Bitter much?

4. That’s what people said about Truman and Nixon. The fullness of time has provided new perspective on these men and revealed that to a large extent that their flaws were greatly magnified by a fickle and spiteful public that was outraged, even though they could give no coherent reason for that outrage. A tempest in a teapot. Much ado about nothing. This last remark of yours reeks of petulance and a dash of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-07 7:11:25 AM

VOR wrote: “1. Stayed in Afghanistan and caught bin Laden rather than starting a second war.”

1. Granted, in hindsight that proved an error. However, then-credible intelligence existed that Iraq was preparing for another war with either one of its neighbours or the West, similar to what Iran is apparently doing now. Most of the world believed it so it’s not a simple matter of “Bush lied.”

2. Bush appointed people he knew and trusted. You can call the cronyism, but all politicians are guilty of it to some degree. Rock star Clinton was no better.

3. No, it’s what the good guy is fighting for that makes him the good guy. Don’t be a moron. We shouldn’t have to take hit after hit after hit just because the other guy is a scumbag. Waterboarding (which is NOT torture, by the way) prevented a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge and who knows what else. Torture is the rack, the boots, the hooks, the whips, the chains, the hot irons, the Judas cradle, the stake, the wheel, beating with rubber hoses, rape with specially trained dogs, and so on. Many of these items are on the menu in modern Latin American and Islamic jails, and the people there don’t care a whit. It’s only when the Americans do the same that they get outraged. You want to talk about hypocrisy…

Bottom line: If torture works, and all other avenues have been exhausted, and the consequences for failure to act are foreseen to be grave, then you use it.

4. So a few people had their conversations monitored without their knowledge. Activists and reporters do this kind of crap all the time. So do undercover cops making buys from drug pushers. Or are you saying that the narc should reveal his true identity to the criminals before making his buys?

5. Separation of powers still exists. There are limits on Bush’s executive powers. The war was only possible because both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly backed Bush at the time. He was not solely responsible for the war; he was merely its greatest proponent. There are many, many Congressmen and Senators, Republican and Democrat both, who share the blame.

Yes, perhaps you’d better go on. Because the case you’ve built thus far is long on resentment and personal disgust and short on meaningful insight. Precisely the sort of insight that usually prevails in the history books in the end once the generation responsible for the emotional derangement begins to fade from the scene.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-07 7:21:56 AM

JC, when you said that Bush made over 700 challenges to Constitutional law, do you mean he challenged the text of the Constitution itself, or the case law derived therefrom? That is, was he demanding the repeal of any particular article, or did he just object to some judges' overly broad interpretations of the said articles? There's a big difference, you know. Gun-grabbers have been challenging the Second Amendment for decades.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-07 7:24:32 AM

Bush will not recover as time passes, because there still is more yet to come out and unlike even Nixon, there is not a single element of greatness in this man to compensate for his flaws, nor has his legacy left the US better off in any way, foreign or domestic. These excuses and concerns about his poor luck, most of which he created himself through inattention, are simply wishful but lame rationalizations for a man who really offered a massive "bait and switch" agenda and who ruled through raw political power, deceit and fear mongering. He was elected with less popular votes than his opponent, and as barely relected after the post 9-11 approval faded, yet he ran the most imperial and divisive presidency in history, famously saying he would continue even if nobody else in the country agreed with him. Comparisons with Lincoln, who brought in many different points of view and who faced a long term crisis threatening the country and and not one of his own making by misadventures, are absurd. He ran on promises of being a uniter who would pursue compassionate conservatism at home and a humble foreign policy abroad, yet his private words and actions showed he intended neither, for example his own words intending to be a war president before his election, and we are now paying the price for his hubris. As the conservative Joe Scarborough pointed out, he didn't dare veto anything because he was bribing the GOP to stand behind his failed war policies, and betrayed both his supporters and detractors by his own ambition. The republicans, including McCain, who took these bribes and went lock step with him as he drove the country into the ditch rather than blow the whistle, and then ran like rats when the bill became due, got what they deserved.

Posted by: Ed | 2008-11-07 12:42:03 PM

Ed: there will be a debate on Bush's presidency, as there has been for every president. We're still debating Lincoln's for goodness sake!

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-07 1:19:36 PM

If Bush was so horrible, why was he re-elected in 2004 AND never impeached? It can't all be fraud and/or maneuver.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-07 1:27:11 PM


The standard for impeachment is very specific. According to the U.S. Constitution, impeachment requires "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

A president can be grossly incompetent and still not meet this standard.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-11-07 1:31:23 PM

Actually I'd say the standard is vague and left ultimately to the politicians in the House and Senate. The whole case rests on their judgment, which does not necessarily rest on legal standards. All 2/3rds of them have to do is agree that the President's actions merited removal from office.

But you are right: competence is not the issue. All it takes is political will. So far, only two presidents have faced impeachment - Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton and neither were removed. In fact, the whole process has been so controversial that it has seldom been considered let alone implemented.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-11-07 1:42:23 PM


1. This is debatable. The "reliable" intelligence may have been manufactured by Bush appointees. We do know that Bush wanted an Iraq invasion plan immediately following 9/11. This may turn out to be planning for multiple possible courses of action, or it may be evidence of a stubborn President who listened to his gut rather than experts. I suspect we'll find out more about both questions once the White House opens up a bit more.

2. Roberts is a fine choice; he's more socially conservative than I'm comfortable with, but he's very qualified. Every president has made patronage appointments, but in most cases the appointee had some degree of credibility, regardless of their political leanings. However, the very idea that Miers could serve on the court is an insult to that institution. Bush moved the bar even lower.

3. Evidence that torture is effective, please? I've researched this area extensively. Most research shows information gained from torture to be completely unreliable. The "ticking time bomb" scenario so often used to justify some exceptions to prohibitions on torture has never happened in real life.

The only cited case of torture being effective (repeatedly brought up by proponents of torture) is the Abdul Hakim Murad case, which has been thoroughly debunked. In fact, he resisted 60 days of torture and only spilled the beans once a new team showed up and, without any abuse, said they were taking him to Israel. What's more, all the information he gave had already been gleaned from his computer. Even the FBI has refused to go along with CIA and DOD tactics in Guantanamo and elsewhere, as evidence collected is inadmissible in court and totally unreliable as an investigatory tool.

If you don't think waterboarding is torture, I suggest that you try it, as former waterboarding proponent Christoper Hitchens did.

As for torture and being a "good guy", I suppose that depends on your definition of "good". Since torture doesn't work, the "good" in torture is revenge, and that presupposes that the person you're torturing did something to deserve it. Can you prove that of the victims of Bush torture in Guantanamo and elsewhere? The Justice Department hasn't been able to, even with a toolkit full of new anti-terror laws.

4. I didn't say that covert surveillance shouldn't be allowed. It certainly should. However, unless you want a return to the Nixon/Hoover era, you need some sort of oversight. FISA was specifically designed to prevent Nixon-style abuse, and the FISC has never, in its thirty year history, refused a request for a warrant. This doesn't seem to be a system that needs to be loosened up. What's more, the administration has refused to reveal anything about the criteria used to decide who is surveilled and who is not.

I would suggest that more than a "few" people have been listened in on, judging by the massive surveillance capacities built into AT&T routing stations in San Fransisco and the details of the surveillance programs that have emerged so far. The victims of this surveillance include American officers' phone sex conversations being giggled over by NSA operatives. Is that helping national security?

5. Separation of powers may still exist in theory, but Bush has made totally unprecedented use of signing statements to modify the will of Senate and the House. He's also expanded the utility of executive orders. You're right to say that constitutional boundaries need to be pushed. The document was written over two centuries ago, after all. However, the principles of court oversight and executive transparency are critical to this process, and Bush has stomped on both, citing national security whenever possible.

The courts must share the blame here, as they've accepted the administration's arguments. However, the deference given to national security claims has developed over years of such claims being used sparingly and only when completely necessary.

I'm not deranged. I don't think Bush should have been impeached, even though a lot of stuff he did was unconstitutional. I think he rightly took office in January 2001, and I believe that he will rightfully step down come January 2009. He will be judged on those eight years, during which America has become less free, less prosperous, less powerful, and less respected by almost all standards of measure. I'm constantly amazed by how many people will complain about Big Government taking their guns and money, but are first in line to defend the state when it comes to "law and order", "national security", and civil liberties.

You've turned the whole debate into a series of straw men ("Or are you saying that the narc should reveal his true identity to the criminals before making his buys?") and ad hominem attacks ("don't be a moron"; "reeks of petulance and a dash of Bush Derangement Syndrome"), yet somehow I'm the one who's not adding anything new?

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2008-11-10 1:01:07 PM


1. “May” have been manufactured? Sorry, responsible debate avoids speculation. The rest of the world has their own intelligence services; they believed in the threat too. Where they parted ways with Bush was in what to do about it. And Saddam Hussein threw fuel on the fire by throwing out weapons inspectors and submitting an incomplete accounting for his WMDs.

2. This is not about your comfort zone. Why do so many people think that what THEY are comfortable with should affect the way others think, act, and vote? As for lowering the bar to the court—we’re dealing with the yahoos who decided, on the flimsiest of political pretexts, trashed every important bill of rights since the Magna Carta and erased millennia of precedent by deciding that a live, beating-hearted, genetically human fetus is not a person. In any case, this entire paragraph is opinion, not fact, and therefore ineligible for consideration.

3a. Meaning you’ve Googled it. Intelligence agencies around the world use torture to wring information out of enemy operatives. Either they’re all wrong, and you and a few Harvard types are right, or they’re onto something. Torture is certainly not effective in every case, but if you’ve already tried everything else, and you’ve reason to believe thousands of lives are at stake, what have you to lose? To maintain that torture is COMPLETELY ineffective is simply not realistic.

3b. You cite one example where torture may or may not have worked, and consider your case proven? Ridiculous. You just don’t want to believe it works so you’ll have a reason to condemn it, so you can go to bed at night telling yourself what an evolved creature of the Enlightenment you are. You don’t really care about the terrorists’ rights; you just find that the knowledge that your government uses “torture” cheapens your own existence. As with most liberals, it’s really all about you.

3c. I will agree to be waterboarded if you agree to be hung up by the heels and flayed alive, the skin pulled off your back in long, thin strips.

3d. The inmates of Guantanamo are captured terrorists. They wore no uniforms and observed none of the rules of war. That alone is reason to execute them, never mind just hold and question them.
4a. The Nixon/Hoover era was a time of unparalleled prosperity for the American people, the likes of which were not (arguably) seen again until the 1980s. Whatever may be said for the cloak and dagger stuff from a moral standpoint, it didn’t destroy the fabric of American society, and the only people protesting were the same people who were protesting anything else the establishment did. Moreover, in times of national emergency (like war), it is very common, and amply supported by precedent, to temporarily suspend some liberties until the emergency is over. We didn’t win World War II with sunshine and puppies, you know.

4b. Suggest all you like. It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what you can prove. Again, cheese the conspiracy theories. You’re just looking for reasons to be pissed because you don’t like Bush for your own emotional reasons. Rather than looking at the facts and coming to a reasoned conclusion, you’ve already made a gut decision and are now hunting for facts to support a conclusion you’ve already reached.

5a. Bush does not have the power to dictate to Congress, nor does he have the power to dictate to the Supreme Court. The text of American law expressly forbids this. If Bush had the courts in his pocket, he wouldn’t have lost several key cases—although it is interesting to speculate how the rulings would have gone had they come up in the 2001-2003 period, when the emergency was at its peak and people were still waiting for the next attack.

5b. On September 11, 2001, the United States sustained an attack that killed nearly triple the number of people who died in Pearl Harbour, a much smaller attack that resulted in a far larger and more devastating war. By a faceless enemy who marched into battle under no flag but hid under the skirts of women and children. By an enemy intelligence suggesting might have the capacity for dirty bombs and chemical attacks, if not full-scale nukes. That is an emergency, my friend. Sorry it wasn’t enough to make you pack your family into your SUV and call your lawyer.

5c. Whether you are deranged is “debatable.” America has become less prosperous because September 11, not the invasion of Iraq, destabilized the world. (Al Qaeda struck in several other places, notably Madrid and London.) America is less respected only because other nations don’t like to be reminded how helpless they are to restrain her. Yet they refuse to spend the kind of money on their militaries that would restore the necessary balance, even as they huddled under the umbrella of security provided by those same Americans during the Cold War. American liberals are obsessed with “world opinion,” and the world knows it, which is whey they kick up such a fuss. The French, by contrast, don’t give two fucks what the world thinks, everybody knows it, and so they have to put up with much less guff.

6. I? I, alone, have turned the tide of the entire debate? That’s quite a lot of power you’ve ceded to me, VOR, without me even asking for it. You now know why America has so much power—because people like you, in other countries, keep giving it up. Instead of calling my points “straw men,” why don’t you try debunking them? Or did you think the one would get you out of having to do the other?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-10 2:23:06 PM

Done feeding trolls. Back to real work. Let's check back in 20 years and see who's right.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2008-11-10 3:23:21 PM


Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-10 3:33:49 PM

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