What's worse: liver or beets? Judge Judy or infomercials? Warren G. Harding or George W. Bush?
Professor Blanchard's fair reading of the bad and the good from the Bush II years reminds me of the difficulty in arguing that George W. Bush is the worst President ever. How does one measure the good of fighting AIDS in Africa against the bad of pushing bad science? How does replacing Saddam Hussein with a democratic Iraqi government stack up against a six-year occupation, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and two million Iraqi refugees who as of last month are still too scared to go home? How does preventing another 9/11 (if it wasn't just luck) make up for not preventing the first one, or for squandering the international political capital that disaster gave us? And how do we measure all of that against the feats and foibles of every preceding President?
Intelligence Squared hosted a debate in December on the resolution "Bush 43 is the worst President of the last 50 years." William Kristol and Karl Rove were able to sway more of the undecideds away from the resolution than Simon Jenkins and Jacob Weisberg could pull toward it, perhaps largely because of the difficulty in establishing that the net harm done by the Bush Administration outweighs the net harm of Vietnam and domestic unrest under Johnson and Iran and stagflation under Carter. (The final vote on the I2 December resolution was still 68% to 27% in favor).
Trying to determine whether President Bush performed worse than Carter, Hoover, or other Presidential bêtes noires may provide entertainment akin to debating whether Lincoln was greater than Washington or either Roosevelt. Such parlor games also miss the immediately relevant point that President Bush leaves the country less secure, less wealthy, and less free than when he took office.
Forget the HuffPost-y hyperbole or even the 61% of historians who deemed Bush the worst President ever (and that was last April, before the economy really tanked). Let's measure Bush by the Reagan standard: are you better off than you were four (or eight) years ago? The numbers suggest you are making less and owing more now than you did eight years ago.
George W. Bush hasn't made things as bad as 1933 or 1981, but he leaves Americans and America in worse shape than when he started. That's failure in my patriotic book.
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