As George W. Bush’s term in office as America’s 43rd President comes to a close, it is appropriate for political thinkers, scholars, historians, and citizens alike to critique the highlights and the lowlights of his eight years. Critics will undoubtedly point to the faulty intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq, or the failed effort to reform social security and immigration. Supporters will surely point to the undeniable reality that, against the expectations of virtually every “expert” following September 11th, President Bush has fulfilled his solemn duty to protect the American people from further attack. And therefore the debate over the relative success or failure of his administration will continue for decades to come. As it should.
As a student and teacher of history, one of the most intellectually absurd exercises that so-called historians undertake is arrogantly concluding where the current president will rank compared to previous presidents in American history. Each of the mainstream media outlets have interviewed these self-proclaimed psychics who predict that George W. Bush will be forever regarded as a failed president, if not the worst ever.
Douglas Brinkley (the same unbiased historian who called Jimmy Carter “the most principled American president since Harry Truman,” and who wrote a glowing biography of John Kerry during his failed campaign to unseat President Bush) recently told CBS News that “It’s safe to say that President Bush is going to be seen as the very bottom-rung of American presidents…as a judicial historian looking at what’s occurred on his watch, it is almost void of genuine accomplishment.”
Not to be outdone, historian Joseph Ellis (the same man who idiotically scoffed at the notion that September 11th, 2001 would be anything more than a mere footnote in American history) concluded, “I think that George Bush might very well be the worst president in American history…Bush has nothing on the positive side, virtually nothing.”
And so it goes. The mainstream networks, who have been waging an eight year public relations war against a president they never believed was legitimate, continue to parade out left-wing scholars who tell us all what future generations will believe.
With all due respect, this exercise unquestionably proves that many so-called historians are willing to betray their field for the sake of making a political statement. The legacy of modern presidents cannot accurately and fairly be evaluated for generations. Think about it: Abraham Lincoln was loathed in his day, with nearly two thirds of the American people voting against him in his first election. The Douglas Brinkleys of Lincoln’s day would have never been able to predict that 150 years later he would be held on par by some with the incomparable George Washington.
And even in our most recent century, FDR has long been regarded as one of the best. Yet just now we are beginning to fully grasp how much of a failure FDR’s New Deal truly was…how it prolonged the Great Depression by nearly a decade. There is little question that in the future, FDR will continue to plummet from his current position as one of America’s greatest.
Contrast him with his successor, Harry S. Truman. Truman left office extremely unpopular, and with a similar tag as what the current president wears. Yet today, his stock continues to rise, with historians recognizing that this “backwards hick” actually handled his office in an admirable way.
Where George W. Bush ends up on the list of all-time great presidents will remain a mystery long after the current crop of self-serving historians have passed. And what’s so ironic is that his legacy could easily be impacted by what his successor is able to accomplish. If Barack Obama bungles the situation in Iraq and it turns into an Iranian extension or hotbed for terrorist training, Bush’s decision to invade and “democratize” Iraq will look disastrous. But suppose that the progress now occurring there continues, and Iraq becomes a valuable ally in the region, one whose democratic processes rub off on its neighbors, thus transforming the world’s most volatile region into stability. Imagine that Bush’s War on Terror continues to successfully dismantle the world wide terror groups bent on death and destruction.
Could George W. Bush one day be mentioned among America’s greatest? That’s something that not even the brash Douglas Brinkley could predict…so maybe he shouldn’t try.
Peter W. Heck