As someone who bleeds red, white and blue for the United States, values its institutions and served in its armed forces, as a student of American history, observer of eight presidential administrations and sometime White House visitor over a long career in journalism and then a second life as a blogger, I make the following statement with authority, but not one iota of satisfaction:
George Bush is the worst president in U.S. history.Comparing Bush to James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding, who are routinely cited by historians as being the worst presidents, would seem to be unfair. After all, these mediocrities held office in less complex and troubled times and only Harding served when the U.S. was a global power with the attendant challenges and responsibilities.
But this is precisely why George Bush will be judged the worst president.While Bush cannot be given the benefit of the doubt regarding his administration's culpability in not trying to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is his betrayals in the years since then that assure his ranking as the worst president.
He came to office declaring himself to be the right man for what are indeed complex and troubled times. But he failed make good on any of his promises -- not a single one of consequence -- despite a compliant Congress and a post-9/11 mandate comparable to that given FDR after Pearl Harbor.
In the eight months that Bush held office prior to the attacks, the intelligence community that he pledged to reinvigorate slept the sleep of the smug and complacent, rousing itself only when there were turf battles to be fought.
This despite the fact that the CIA, FBI and NSA -- as well as some of Bush's own White House advisors -- had detailed intelligence that Al Qaeda was plotting an attack on the homeland and even knew the identities of some of his confederates and were aware that they were in country and learning to fly large passenger jets. Bush's national security advisor was, by her own subsequent admission, still fighting a Cold War that had been over for a decade. Today she is the secretary of state.
His response to the attacks was to:
* Declare an unprovoked war on Saddam Hussein, a favorite pre-existing target of his neoconservative brain trust.
This diverted attention, troops and other resources from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the post 9/11 battle should have been concentrated, and plunged the U.S. into a quagmire that has cost a quarter of a trillion dollars, taken over 2,600 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives while providing a new safe haven for Al Qaeda and further destabilizing the Middle East.
The invasion might have been all about Iraq's vast reserves of oil, as some people claimed. But the occupation has been such a disaster that even Iraq's oil drilling and refining infrastructure remains only marginally functional three-plus years since U.S. contractors set about rebuilding it and, incredibly, there are fuel shortages throughout the country. This despite administration claims that oil would "self finance" the occupation, as well as provide desperately needed revenue for a new Iraqi government and more fuel for gas-guzzling Americans.
* Not only fail to reform intelligence agencies after 9/11, but to pad them with hacks whose sole qualifications were their ties to the Republican Party elite.
And for good measure to disembowel the first responder in a terrorist attack, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which contributed substantially to the nightmarish aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
* Make a mockery of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative judicial branches and expand his own powers well beyond the limits delineated in the Constitution through a government of imperial absolutism with limitless powers.
* Fixate on secrecy to the point of obsession. This includes reclassifying previously public documents although they do not contain sensitive information, cracking down on whistler-blowers and journalists and denying historians the right to examine a vast array of presidential papers after he leaves office.
* Try to rob Americans their most fundamental civil liberties in the commission of a War on Terrorism ostensibly being fought to protect those liberties.
While the president has talked of "sacrifice," it always has been in the abstract, and other than the soldiers themselves and Americans with family or friends who have done tours
Wars usually demand belt tightening, tax increases and other forms of deprivation. But this has not been a time of testing, but rather spending. In fact, about the only manifestation that theMy judgment might not be so harsh had there been counterbalances during Bush's tenure, say a successful domestic agenda.
is in the fourth year of a war are the ubiquitous “Support the Troops” ribbons and bumper stickers. U.S.
In fact, no domestic agenda since Herbert Hoover's has failed so ingloriously and is so shot with betrayal. This includes:
* A yawning disinterest in protecting the environment and an energy plan that is smoke and mirrors.
* Giveaways to corporations and the wealthy and attacks on the middle class. It is no coincidence that wages and salaries now make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest level in 40 years.
* Pandering to a fundamentalist religious right wing on issues ranging from stem cell research to single-sex marriage.
* An appalling indifference to human suffering except when it can be used for political gain such as the "spontaneous" photo op with a Hurricane Katrina "victim" who turned out to be an affluent GOP businessman. Compassionate conservatism, my ass.On the political front, Bush has managed to do what Democrats could only dream of – bring conservatism nearly to its knees. This is because of a naked opportunism in which principle is turned on its ear and politics always trumps policy. Liberals may be gleeful, but American will be much the worse without strong conservative voices.
Richard Nixon also abused the powers of the office, but his accomplishments assured him a place above the pantheon of bad presidents.
Nixon was a tortured soul, while Bush shows scant evidence of having one.Reflect on these words from Bush's nomination acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention and contrast them with the reality of the last five and a half years:
He is a man with a congenital frat boy smirk who was born with a gold spoon in his mouth, sat out the Vietnam War because of his daddy's pull, never had to deal with failure because family and friends were always there to bail him out, brooks no dissent, lies habitually, is devoid of humility and believes he channels the wisdom of Jesus.
But it is two of his strongest traits -- a disinterest in detail and intellectual laziness -- that perhaps have made him so unsuited to lead in such complex and troubled times.
America's armed forces need better equipment, better training and better pay . . . A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming . . . I don't have enemies to fight. I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect . . . We're learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back ... to lead this nation to a responsibility era, that president himself must be responsible. So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to uphold the laws of our land . . . I will not attack a part of this country because I want to lead the whole of it.Until recently, Bush's stoutest defenders, including the neocon architects of his policies,
But that crowd has been struck deaf and dumbfounded. They know that George Bush has robbed Americans of what is perhaps their most precious asset -- optimism.
George Bush has squandered his legacy for all time, and
and the world much worse places. his betrayals will leave America
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHSThe dates on each police mug shot slate correspond to a date when President Bush or member of his administration betrayed the public trust. From "Line Up," a limited edition boxed set designed Ligorano/Reese, © Madness of Art Editions.