Bye Bye to the Worst President Ever
By Bernie Horn
January 15, 2009 - 1:49am ET
On January 15, George W. Bush presented his valedictory, desperately seeking thanks and congratulations. So here goes: Thanks and congratulations, W, for showing the world that today’s conservatism is an abject failure.
Thanks to Bush, we know that conservatives are not fiscally responsible, they are not for small government, they don’t stand up for moral values, and they won’t make Americans one bit safer. Conservatives aren’t even true defenders of “free markets”—having presided over the biggest market bailout in the history of the world.
After eight long years, Bush can no longer fool the public. Polls show that he is the most unpopular president in the history of survey research. When the 2006 and 2008 elections are considered together, Bush policies resulted in the landslide rejection of his party at both the federal and state levels. There are probably a hundred examples where Bush conservatism failed, but let’s stick with the top ten.
1. The worst recession since the 1930s. The current recession will be the deepest and longest downturn since the Great Depression. And unlike other recessions, this one was directly caused by conservative anti-regulatory policy. In fact, recent evaluations show that Bush policies never created any real growth—the ephemeral financial upswings of the past eight years were based on market bubbles and economic Band-Aids.
2. The worst financial crisis since the 1930s. The Bush Administration, flacking an “ownership society,” helped manufacture the housing bubble. When it burst, Americans lost $6 trillion in housing wealth (so far) fueling a market crash which has cost Americans another $8 trillion of stock wealth, according to economist Dean Baker. On a grand scale, we’ve been mugged.
3. The worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country. That’s what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid correctly called the Iraq war. This preemptive war—based on phony pretenses—is now the second longest in our nation’s history (after Vietnam). Some 35,000 Americans are dead or wounded, as well as an enormous number of innocent Iraqis. And even today, more than five years later, can anyone explain why Bush marched us into this quagmire?
4. Unprecedented rejection of human rights. Recently, a Bush Administration official finally admitted that the U.S. government engaged in torture at Guantanamo. Bush admitted that he personally authorized waterboarding. While these clear violations of the Geneva Convention would have been unthinkable a few years ago, today we’re not surprised. From Abu Ghraib and “extraordinary rendition,” to years-long detention of innocents and the unrestrained killing of civilians by U.S.-paid mercenaries, this administration has systematically squandered our nation’s moral standing in the world, making us less able to protect Americans and American interests worldwide.
5. Watergate-style abuses of power. As the House Judiciary Committee staff has documented, Bush used the politics of fear and division to justify warrantless wiretapping of innocent Americans (including U.S. soldiers fighting overseas), spying on peaceful domestic groups, and use of national security letters to pry into the private records of millions of Americans. He also presided over illegal politicization of the Justice Department and retribution against critics. In fact, Bush claimed the authority to disobey hundreds of laws—as if Richard Nixon were right when he famously said “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
6. Unprecedented increases in inequality. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, “For the first time since the Census Bureau began tracking such data back in the mid-1940s, the real incomes of middle-class families are lower at the end of this business cycle than they were when it started.” That’s because Bush policy was designed to increase economic inequality. The richest one percent of the population received 36 percent of the Bush tax cuts; the least affluent 40 percent received only 9 percent. While the rich got exponentially richer, the poverty rate and the percentage of uninsured dramatically increased.
7. A culture of sleaze. This was an Administration without shame. Kicked off by Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force, the Administration fostered a “greed is good” culture. The subsequent conservative money scandals (Jack Abramoff; White House officials J. Steven Griles and David Safavian; Congressional Republican Rep. Bob Ney, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Rep. Duke Cunningham and Sen. Ted Stevens) and other lawlessness (Cheney’s Chief of Staff O. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Sen. David Vitter, Sen. Larry Craig) have toppled the conservative “moral values” façade into the gutter, where it belongs.
8. Blind rejection of science. The Bush Administration thumbed its nose at scientific evidence that contradicted conservative political goals. The resulting lies about global warming, endangered species, toxic chemicals, and consumer products threaten the health and safety of every American. And the virtual outlawing of stem cell research has delayed important medical advances by years, causing immeasurable suffering and loss of life.
9. Utter refusal to protect the health, safety, and legal rights of Americans. Following the conservative business-is-always-right philosophy, Bush dismantled the agencies and rules designed to protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses, workers from reckless employers, and small companies from anti-competitive large companies. If conservatives didn’t like a federal law, they blocked, hindered, or defunded agency enforcement.
10. Presiding over our nation’s worst natural disaster, and not caring. Hurricane Katrina was transformed from a calamity into a national disgrace by the sheer incompetence and indifference of the Bush Administration. Before the hurricane struck, Bush had downsized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and placed in charge a political crony with no relevant experience. When Katrina ripped through New Orleans and inflicted nearly $100 billion in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, FEMA was unprepared to help and thousands of Americans suffered the consequences. More than three years later, New Orleans still has not recovered.
So, congratulations for being the worst president in American history. That’s not just my personal opinion; that’s the opinion of 109 historians polled by the History News Network. Fully 61 percent ranked Bush as the “worst ever.” Ninety-eight percent labeled his presidency a “failure.” And this poll, taken in early 2008, predated the cataclysmic housing and banking crashes. Bye bye W—history will not be kind.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People.
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