Friday, January 16, 2009

Worst President Ever?

With the long national nightmare finally ending, many commentators are again talking about Bush as the worst president ever. Here's Bernie Horn's argument.

I think I've discussed this before. And I still disagree. I know that 61% of historians say he is the worst ever, but I think they might be letting their current feelings get in the way of their analysis.

As bad as Bush was, and he was spectacularly bad, I can't say that he was worse than, at the very least, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce. These guys openly espoused policies that would knowingly tear the nation apart. And the Civil War started on Buchanan's watch. He did absolutely nothing.

There are the more marginal cases as well. Are these people better than Bush? Andrew Johnson? He undermined Reconstruction. On the other hand, at least he wasn't elected. Being an accidental president might make a slight difference. The same goes for John Tyler, probably the most despised president in history while he was in office. His decision to be the president of the slave power and his subsequent annexation of Texas set the nation toward the Civil War. Then there's Richard Nixon, who for all of the less than terrible things he did, permanently undermined the office of the presidency. Herbert Hoover was also really bad, but I feel he was more overwhelmed by the circumstances than malicious. I do like Alan Brinkley's comparison of Bush and Hoover.

So Bush exists in this group I think. Better than Pierce and Buchanan, but not necessarily better than Johnson, Tyler, Nixon, or maybe Hoover.

But one thing is for sure. Bush is far and away the worst president to serve for 8 years. The only possible person who might even come remotely close to this bad is Ulysses Grant, but I don't think it's that close.