Pundits and columnists alike have grappled with a compelling question about President Bush’s legacy: Is Bush the worst president in history? Recently, late-night talk show host Bill Maher offered his take on “Larry King Live,” saying, “He’s the worst. Ever.” While this is a relative judgment – Bush isn’t indisputably the worst president in our history – there is no question that his tenure at the White House has been a failure.
Bush himself takes a more passive approach to the issue of his legacy, saying, “I will let history be my judge.” But you don’t have to go that far back to begin to judge his tenure. Looking at the country now, it is split down the middle. At the center stand Bush and his flawed presidency. Oddly enough, he declared at the launch of his campaign nine years ago, “I am a uniter, not a divider.”
But let’s put Bush in perspective: His penchant for ignoring public opinion, hiring shady people and losing what decent administration he had is reminiscent of other poor presidents. That doesn’t make him the worst president, only one more in a long line of flawed administrations.
The Harding administration took bribes for oil land in Wyoming, in a scheme that would later be called the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1922. It also happened that nearly his entire administration consisted of his friends from Ohio. Meanwhile, Calvin Coolidge pandered to big business and carried out tax favors. His cabinet was filled with big businessmen. There was Richard Nixon, who had the government spy on prominent citizens he deemed a threat to his administration, which led to Watergate. And although Bush has yet to be put on trial, his administration rings reminiscent of these former presidential woes.
Bush’s obsession with nation building in Iraq is nothing like what James Polk did during the Mexican-American War in 1846. He sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to pressure the government into giving up California and New Mexico for $20 million. Mexico sent him on his heels, and Polk was so offended that he asked Congress to declare war after fabricating a story that the Mexican army killed 11 U.S. soldiers. Abraham Lincoln dissented on the grounds that it would give the president unjust powers with which to wage war. The war gave Polk the excuse to draft a treaty that ripped away 1.2 million square miles of territory from Mexico and put Polk’s top general, Zachary Taylor, on the fast track to becoming president.
Bush likely never read these passages of history. Otherwise, he might be wise enough to not repeat their mistakes, or at least come as close to repeating them as he does. The unfulfilling part of his presidency comes in his lack of successful policies.
One need only look to the last State of the Union address to see a list of empty promises as long as the National Mall. There are his ambitious tax cuts that have helped the top 1 percent of Americans and pinched almost everyone else in America, hiking their credit and mortgage bills. There are also his attempts to curtail the budget by $18 billion, while his Iraq endeavor will drain billions more. Then there are the 46 million people who can’t afford their medical bills and No Child Left Behind, which has only handicapped schools while taking away funding from the schools that need it most. He has proposed free trade agreements, while America has increased its trade deficit to $726 billion. He’s also harped on immigration reform, but his guest worker program was never passed. It all adds up to a lack of administrative skill – and a lot of disappointment.
Bush’s presidential track record is less than stellar, but it may take a scandal or two to fully earn this title. While Bush may not be the worst, he is far from the best. We must only wait until November when we have the opportunity to find a better president – or maybe the true worst president ever.
Kevin Bunkley is an LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.