The Worst President Ever?

An unscientific survey of 109 professional historians, conducted by the doubtless-unbiased author of Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion In America, reports that sixty-one percent of its sample considers George W. Bush's Presidency the "worst ever." Remarking on this, er, finding, Matt takes the contrarian view that "Bush is probably correct to think that history will remember him kindly." I wouldn't go nearly that far (and nor would Matt, I suspect, if you really pressed him), but I will say, as someone who judges the Bush Administration more or less a failure, that it's very easy for me to imagine a possible future in which Bush's policies are widely judged to have been vindicated by events. (I have a piece on just this possibility forthcoming in the June issue of the Atlantic.) It's also easy to imagine a future in which Bush ends up more or less forgotten - along the lines of William McKinley, say, whose Presidency Karl Rove famously set out to emulate, with the Iraq War swallowed up by the same amnesia that's claimed our bloody and misguided adventures in the Phillipines. And yes, it's also easy to imagine a future in which Bush ends up judged not only a failure, but a worse chief executive than James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover - though for this to happen, I would submit, the worst Bush-created disasters would have to still be ahead of us, since neither the occupation of Iraq nor anything else our current POTUS has been involved in rivals the Civil War or the Great Depression for sheer destructive impact.

All of which is to say that sixty-one percent of the historians' sample are ax-grinding fools whose nitwittery dishonors their profession. Judge Bush a failure by all means, but the fact that his legacy is only beginning its long unspooling ought to give anyone with even a glancing knowledge of history's cunning passages - let alone a so-called "professional" - pause before pronouncing his administration the worst in American history.