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December 06, 2005

Standing Up for Dubya, Such As It Is

People here know I am no big fan of George Bush, but you know, I try to be fair to the man. This is why I'm going to defend him from this:

James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history... he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason...

Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan.

You know what, that's just a slander on poor Dubya. Yes, he is an awful, awful president: an incompetent of the highest rank, a man of profoundly limited intellectual curiosity who is to the modern American conservative movement what Charles II of Spain was to the Hapsburgs. It's always amusing to read conservative apologists for Bush, who wish the imbue the man with a sort of mystical deep thinking, such as as when they suggested that when Islamicist insurgents started flooding into Iraq that it was some rope-a-dope flypaper "master plan" rather than a consequence of the Bush administration having no strategy, or even an interest in a strategy, in Iraq once Saddam was hauled out of his rat hole. It ain't happening, people. Bush has all the vision of an Amish buggy horse: If it ain't directly in front of him, he's not seeing it. And let's not forget that an Amish buggy horse isn't exactly the master of his own destiny.

For all that, he's no James Buchanan. Perhaps the Civil War was inevitable -- perhaps it was even necessary -- but perhaps in both cases it was not, had there been a Chief Executive of the United States elected in 1856 whose entire plan for dealing with the sectarian issues rending the South from the rest of the nation had not been "well, let's just try to ride this out and let it be the next guy's problem." When he finally did become engaged on the issue, it was, as they say, far too little, far too late, and far too incompetently. Let's just say a president whose initial response on South Carolina seceding was to say "They can't do it, but I can't stop them" is not a man who deserves the comfort of letting another of his executive brethren front the "worst president" line in his stead.

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008. There have been other presidents whose administrations have been bad, incompetent, malingering or some unholy combination of all three. But only one president is unforgivable, and that's James Buchanan. They knew it at the time; during the Civil War they had to take down Buchanan's picture in the capitol rotunda because they were afraid someone would deface it. The deaths of 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, accrue to his account. Dubya's got a while before he gets there.

Again, this is not to minimize the badness of Dubya; he's a bad president, all right, and if one wishes to front the proposition that he's the least competent president since Buchanan, that's a legitimate argument in my book. It indeed takes some doing to cut in the line in front of Grant, Harding, Hoover and Carter, but Bush has got the goods, such as they are (Nixon was competent, he was just paranoid to the point of endangering the office of the presidency; he's bad, in a scary category all his own). But let's keep things in perspective: When it comes to worst presidents, Buchanan's the top, he's the Eiffel Tower. He's earned the title in perpetuity, or at least until a president comes along who actually and irreversably destroys the United States of America.

Bush isn't that president, and no one derives benefit in suggesting he is. I mean, honestly, people. Being the worst president since Buchanan is bad enough.

Posted by john at December 6, 2005 10:27 AM

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Comments

Ted Lemon | December 6, 2005 11:51 AM

If the Republicans really are scamming the electoral system using electronic voting machines (which, while it sounds a bit Weekly World News-ish, is actually quite technically do-able), then the possibility of another civil war is less remote than one would hope.

I hope the efforts of the electorate to get fair, auditable voting systems installed in place of the unauditable electronic nightmares that have been installed in, e.g., Ohio, will succeed, and just to be clear to any feds who may be listening, I'm a Buddhist and not into the armed insurrection thing. But if in fact the electorate begins to reach the conclusion that in fact their votes are not being counted, and if that innovation is in fact laid at the feet of W., then I think he really would have earned the title.

Anyway, how come Andrew Jackson isn't the worst president ever? Doesn't genocide count for anything anymore?

Jim Winter | December 6, 2005 12:01 PM

Talk like that (Bush worse than Buchanan) always gets my dander up. It's why I can't watch FAHRENHEIT 9/11. I watched 20 minutes of that disaster and wondered why Michael Moore had to lie so much (even contradicting the people he interviewed on camera!!!) when the truth would have sufficed. (Example: Moore asserts Fox News altered the election. No, stupid. CNN jumped the gun. And they waited waaaay too long in '04 on Ohio. Neither result is acceptable.)

W is an incompetent bumbling idiot. Only Herbert Hoover ranks higher as most intellectually challenged president (which is a head-scratcher because Hoover was an otherwise smart guy. No Depression? WTF?)

Often, though, we can't tell if a president was any good or not until long after they're gone. For all we know, Bush is the conservative's Harry Truman, though I'm thinking he's going to be the Herbert Hoover of his time.

Would someone just fellate him so we can start impeachment proceedings?

MinstrelOfFunk | December 6, 2005 12:30 PM

Comparing him to any U.S. president is far more charitable than comparing him to Charles II of Spain. I mean, damn! That's pretty bad.

Donna | December 6, 2005 12:41 PM

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008.

Pretty optimistic of you John. Looking at it from my glass is half-empty perspective, I figure the guy's got 2 more years to do God knows what.

Jemaleddin | December 6, 2005 12:41 PM

I think that if you're comparing their incompetence, Buchanon may come out ahead (behind?) of Bush as worst president, but I don't think that Bush has gotten us where we are through incompetence alone.

Don't forget to factor in his dishonesty and his war profiteering.

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 12:42 PM

MinstrelofFunk:

"Comparing him to any U.S. president is far more charitable than comparing him to Charles II of Spain. I mean, damn! That's pretty bad."

Well, to be sure, he's a bit more put together than Charles II. Say what you will about the intelligence of the American electorate, but to get a leader who literally drools, you need a monarchical system of government.

Donna: three years, actually.

Jim Winter | December 6, 2005 01:15 PM

"Well, to be sure, he's a bit more put together than Charles II. Say what you will about the intelligence of the American electorate, but to get a leader who literally drools, you need a monarchical system of government."

That's only because Charles II lived before the age of plastic surgery, extreme makeovers, and Hollywood PR. If they had television and Internet back then, Chuck's handlers would have nipped, tucked, and spun him into some sort of demented genius.

And THE DAILY SHOW's rating would be astronomical.

John H | December 6, 2005 01:22 PM

but to get a leader who literally drools, you need a monarchical system of government.

Not just any old monarchy either - it helps to have lots of inbreeding.

Joe Hass | December 6, 2005 02:14 PM

John: This comparison is based on man versus man, not entire administration versus entire administration, right?

In re "... the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008": I agree that it's highly unlikely that civil war won't break out in the next three years. That said, I could see a situation in which the U.S. could suffer a economic collapse that would disrupt life in this country as we know it, and much of that collapse would be based on Bush's decision making over the past five years. I understand that it's hard to make calls on history before it happens, but wouldn't a situation that could bring the country to its knees be on the same level as the events that precipitated a war that did nearly the same thing?

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 02:26 PM

Joe: No, because if it did, among other things, Herbert Hoover would be the most reviled president in history. No one would stake a claim as to him being a good president, but he's not generally considered the worst.

It's worth noting that in addition the whole Civil War thing, Buchanan also bungled a major economic crisis: The Panic of 1857, in which he introduced deficit spending amoung other things. Trust me, Buchanan's the whole package.

Joe Hass | December 6, 2005 02:56 PM

John:

I'm not sure which question of mine you were answering with your no: "man versus administration," or "bringing country to its knees?"

Jas | December 6, 2005 03:12 PM

What it comes down to discussions of bests and worsts, you have to remember that familiarity is the key to winning. When A&E or the History Channel did their list of presidents in order of popularity, of course the modern presidents came out on top, with the notable exceptions (Lincoln, natch).

That said, Dubya will be perceived as the worst president ever by people now, and for the next twenty, forty years. Given some distance, we'll have different results. God willing, that means that Buchannan will take back the crown, not that someone worse that Dubya has come along.

dichroic | December 6, 2005 03:17 PM

For the record, I think Carter's bad record as President should be considered in light of the stellar job he's done as ex-President.

Hoover is a paradox. He was brilliant and effective, viewed as the rebuilder of Europe after WWI. Then he gets to the White House, has the worst Depression ever probably not through his own fault, and falls apart. (Which, incidentally, provides a contrast to Bush, who could never have been described as brilliant or effective in any earlier role and who is guilty of doing too little (to prepare for Katrina) and too much (Iraq), and of planning too little either way.

Erbo | December 6, 2005 03:23 PM

Back in April, David Gillies of DailyPundit (a mostly-conservative blog) asked "Who do you think is the worst President?" He disallowed answers of "George W. Bush" and "Bill Clinton" just to keep from getting into those debates.

While there were a couple of votes for Buchanan, "Useless" Grant, Harding, and Carter, some other answers were surprising. The Timekeeper nominated Dick Nixon, but not for Watergate; instead, he cited Nixon's imposition of price controls, putting Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court, and backstabbing Taiwan. Noted blogger Steven Den Beste actually makes a pretty good case for John F. Kennedy, for his increased involvement in Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other reasons. Others cited FDR for putting the country on the path to socialism. Still others nominated Woodrow Wilson for reversing gains in black civil rights, general racism, imposing a federal income tax, and getting the U.S. into World War I (which caused a lopsided victory for the Allies, which allowed them to impose the Treaty of Versailles on Germany, which was a big factor in the rise to power of Hitler and the subsequent horrors of WWII). Rather interesting range of opinions.

will shetterly | December 6, 2005 04:10 PM

I did not think I might be saying a word in defense of James Buchanan today.

Buchanan did notice that there's nothing in the Constitution forbidding secession, and there is an implication in any peaceful partnership that it can be ended. Abraham Lincoln said, "Screw that, let's fight!"

I like to play a couple of alternate history games. Would we be worse off if the American colonies had not seceded? If the Civil War had not happened?

Looking at Canada, I have to conclude we'd be at least as well off, and probably better, since slavery would've ended peacefully in 1833. See:

http://demo.lutherproductions.com/historytutor/basic/modern/genknow/end-slavery.htm

and

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4742049.stm

As for Lincoln, I'm with the people who think slavery's end was inevitable (even Cuba gave it up by 1890, I think), and Jim Crow was a consequence of the violence of the war.

But I'll grant I could be wrong. Maybe the Civil War was necessary. Even so, Bush is worse than Buchanan. Which is the greater sin, doing too little out of respect for the law or warping the law to rationalize your desire for war?

will shetterly | December 6, 2005 04:14 PM

Oh, and for all that Buchanan's financial inability may be impressive, he's got a long way to go to match adding three trillion dollars to the national debt.

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 04:25 PM

You get no argument from me that Bush is setting the stage for a major economic implosion. I'm just not entirely convinced it rises (or exceeds) allowing the country to fall into Civil War (which, of course, had extreme economic consequences in itself).

Trevin | December 6, 2005 04:40 PM

Not a "comment" so much as a correction - like you, John, I think that Bush is awful, but a far cry from the gross incompetence of Buchanan or the outright corrupt administrations of Harding or Grant.

I just wanted to correct the name of Buchanan's biographer. Her name is Jean Baker, not Clark. And I'd highly recommend her biography of Buchanan that you mention above (having read it). It's a powerful indictment of weak leadership in times of crisis that we would do well to remember. Just my two cents. I will now go back to being a faithful lurker.

John | December 6, 2005 04:56 PM

Not slander by any means.

Out of 415 historians, 338 said Bush was failing. Do you disagree with that opinion? You admit Bush is bad.

Only 50 (less than 1/8 or 12.5%) suggest he is worse than Buchanan.

It's amazing what you can get 12% of Americans to agree upon. And I suspect this holds true even for those with the title, "Historian".

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 05:00 PM

Well, even one person can slander (although, strictly as a legal matter, it's almost impossible to slander a sitting president of the US, who is the most public of public figures). But yeah, it's comforting to know 88% of polled historians haven't completely lost their minds.

Brian Greenberg | December 6, 2005 05:04 PM

OK, so we've gone from judging something immediately after it happens to judging it before it's even finished. How about we judge the Bush presidency after we've seen the final 37.5% of it?

The question of "who's the best/worst president" has a ridiculous premise. There are so many factors to judge on, and each individual prioritizes those factors differently. The guy who did the worst job on the issue or area you consider most important is going to come out the worst in your book. It's like asking "what's the worst flavor of ice cream?"

I can't find the link now, but I just recently saw a poll that listed Bill Clinton as the second best president ever *AND* the third worst president ever. QED.

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 05:09 PM

Brian, one need not eat an entire egg to know it's rotten.

I certainly grant it's possible Bush can pull it out and finish his term without being one of the worst presidents ever. I doubt it, but I admit the possibility.

However, presently and to date, he's one of the worst presidents ever. Which is to say that if he were to choke on a pretzel tomorrow and die, the sum of his presidency would be one that showed his appalling incompetence in the job.

That said, he's still better than Buchanan.

John H | December 6, 2005 05:31 PM

Maybe he can use that as his epitaph - "At least I was better than Buchanan..."

Elizabeth | December 6, 2005 05:52 PM

I dunno, John. I think the jury should still be out. I'm thinking of a combo of Bush's stated desires to toss out Posse Comitatus and a possible Bird Flu.

I'm also a fiscal conservative, and as far as I can tell, the current administration seems to be running the Government into the ground. Not sure what we'll do if we are over 50% in debt to China.

Someone mentioned above that Harding had him beat on gross corruption. Um, Haliburton? No bid contracts in billion dollar sums? I think that's got to be quite the feather in the hat, so to speak. Not to mention the refusal of Cheney to hand over energy records, record 10 trillion profits, and unsworn energy leaders' testimony before Congress, for starters.

So, we'll see. But for the moment, yes, Buchanan.

Chris Beck | December 6, 2005 07:44 PM

Not an american, so I can't really call the Bush vs. Buchanan thing either way (especially since Bush is so fresh and personal), but I do have to say that the current incarnation of the Republicans are doing there best to be the most anti-democratic party in the US in quite a while based on the current Ohio House Bill 3 ruckus following on from the Supreme Courts travesty in Bush vs. Gore

More from a defintely slanted source on the Ohio state bill here. As I say, a slanted source but some of that stuff seems pretty damned hard to defend, especially given the proven fallibility of Diebold and their quesitonable staff.

Matt McIrvin | December 6, 2005 10:30 PM

I've often thought Lyndon Johnson rightfully belongs on lists of both the ten best and the ten worst presidents.

John Scalzi | December 6, 2005 10:59 PM

Yeah. Depends which year you get him in.

Anne C. | December 6, 2005 11:35 PM

I think any economic disaster we have coming to us (most likely precipitated by the End of Oil) is not one that can be laid at the feet of one incompetent president. The typical American lifestyle has been in place for at least the last 20 to 25 years and included the 8 year term of a Democratic president (a good one despite his inability to control himself) with a vice president that painted himself as Mr. Environment. I think most of us, Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike, could take some responsibility for supporting the status quo.

The silver lining may be that Bush's administration is forcing the rest of the world to have less dependence on America for leadership. If America is weakened by its dependence on oil, countries that now recognize and utilize sustainable practices will in theory be better prepared to lead the world into a new way of life. (The fact that they currently condemn the spendthrift American way of life and will be proven right is an unfortunate side effect.)

Marcus Nogueira | December 7, 2005 12:32 AM

Lyndon Johnson completely and utterly mangled up Vietnam. How many boys die out there because of him? Johnson is, in my book, the 2nd worst president the States has ever had.

Bush is just working on getting him beat, I mean he's still got 3 more years right?

Bob | December 7, 2005 02:35 AM

True, Bush Jr. is, at worst, the second-most-incompetent president today. But I sense a greatness in the man, an ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, nay, deep from the throat of victory, that will snag him the bottom spot.

Here's a prediction. When the first smuggled-in nuke goes off within the borders of the US, the one that forces Congress to pass the Super-Duper Double-Secret Patriot Act that for all intents and purposes puts an end to what we like to call a democracy, the nuclear materials that do the job will be found to have been "liberated" from their former owners during the Bush II administration. I mean, assuming that anyone cares to find out at that point. The incompetent and inattentive bunch of clowns currently inhabiting the White House can't be bothered to do a serious job of clamping down on the trafficking of fissionables, preferring instead to go haring off against countries that aren't developing nukes because, well, that's easier.

And yes, they do call me Little Miss Sunshine.

WizarDru | December 7, 2005 08:40 AM


What do you consider to have been Carter's greatest mistakes/blunders? His handling of Iran? The energy crisis? Just curious. I was under the impression his was a mediocre presidency, but not an incompetent one.

ajay | December 7, 2005 08:43 AM

How about Washington?

As a young colonel, started a war by mistake.

Broke his oath as an officer when he decided to rebel against the Crown.

Split the country in two during the Revolution.

Fought, incompetently, a long and tragic war (albeit with fewer casualties than during the Civil War, but that was probably due to technological and geographic limitations), which he won only with the considerable assistance of the French Navy, and which left unfinished business in the shape of "unliberated" Canada which was then settled in the failed War of 1812.

By punting the issue of slavery, laid the foundations for the incredibly bloody Civil War which Canada (and other British territories) avoided.

Signed the Fugitive Slave Law which laid down for the first time that escaped slaves, even on free soil, had no constitutional rights.

By splitting off the world's largest maritime power from what would have become one of its most populous territories, created the strong at sea-weak on land problem that haunted 19th and 20th century Britain and contributed to the catastrophe of the World Wars. In both of these the independent USA joined - its independence from Britain did not keep it out of war, but only ensured that the wars would be longer and worse than they would otherwise have been.

John Scalzi | December 7, 2005 09:20 AM

The vast majority of your evidence against Washington took place before he was president, Ajay, so it's not relevant to the "worst president" thing.

Jim Winter | December 7, 2005 10:12 AM

"which left unfinished business in the shape of "unliberated" Canada which was then settled in the failed War of 1812."

Er... The Canadians don't see it that way, and neither does history. Benjamin Franklin went to Montreal to enlist Canadian support for the revolution. The Canadians, shall we say, opted out.

As for your assertions he did a bad job during the war, consider that a group of guerilla fighters with virtually no resources managed to draw France, Prussia, Poland, and Spain into a war against the world's first superpower since the Mongols ruled almost all of Asia and half of Europe.

But, as John said, that was all before he was president, and for the most part, Washington applied what he learned from his mistakes (like "Try not to start wars in Ohio by accident.") pretty well.

ajay | December 7, 2005 10:31 AM

Sorry - the business was 'unfinished' in the sense that after 1789 a lot of Americans still thought it might be a good plan to try invading Canada. After 1812, not so much.
But, as you say, most of that was before he became president.

And, on a less serious note, I like the idea of falling into one of the classic blunders, "the most famous of which is 'Never get involved in a land war in Ohio'..."

Jim Winter | December 7, 2005 10:42 AM

"And, on a less serious note, I like the idea of falling into one of the classic blunders, "the most famous of which is 'Never get involved in a land war in Ohio'...""

Now that is a classic line. Too bad Nixon didn't learn it.

Anonymous | December 7, 2005 11:29 AM

We were passed by two Amish teenage girls on one of our rural county highways last week. Makes us feel really old. I think it is George Bush's fault.

Anonymous | December 7, 2005 11:34 AM

Oh yes, and they were NOT driving their buggy. They were driving a white Mitsubishi. I think they must have had something important after church.

Simon | December 7, 2005 11:44 AM

Washington fought incompetently a long and tragic war? Seems to me that, considering the odds against him, avoiding getting squashed by the mightiest superpower on the planet was proof of military genius. Many scholars on the subject have testified to this. True enough that the Revolution probably couldn't have been won without French aid, but getting the French to come in against Britain was diplomatic genius by the Americans who did it.

Story about James Buchanan. The posts he held are factual; I can't testify to the conversation about him:

James Polk named Buchanan his Secretary of State in 1845. Andrew Jackson asked Polk, "What did you appoint that damn fool for?" Polk, taken by surprise, said, "But General, you yourself appointed him Ambassador to Russia." Jackson replied, "That's because I couldn't think of anywhere farther away to send him. If we had an Ambassador to Mars, I'd have appointed him to that."

John Scalzi | December 7, 2005 11:46 AM

Anonymous:

"Oh yes, and they were NOT driving their buggy. They were driving a white Mitsubishi. I think they must have had something important after church."

May have been regular old Mennonites, then.

Chris Duncan | December 7, 2005 03:21 PM

As bad as Bush is, at least he has big ideas. While the Iraq war might be viewed as an awful mistake, he did bring up a proposed mission to Mars. That should account for something. Yesh, I think he's a moron, but in many ways he's not nearly as complacent as past presidents, and I think he deserves at least some credit for that.

Jim Winter | December 7, 2005 04:07 PM

"Oh yes, and they were NOT driving their buggy. They were driving a white Mitsubishi. I think they must have had something important after church."

Those were Mennonites. Amish do not drive cars. (Well, one sect does, but only black cars.)

John Scalzi | December 7, 2005 04:30 PM

Well, Chris, it's easy to bring up big ideas when you know there's not a chance in hell the government will be able to afford them, thanks to your tax cuts and other issues at home, so as much as I love the idea of going to Mars, I'm not sure how much that mitigates things.

Jas | December 7, 2005 05:14 PM

Chris, seriously, I'd really rather that an incompetent president be lazy rather than an energetic, go-getter of buffoonery and awfulness.

Jeff VanderMeer | December 7, 2005 06:18 PM

I think the main problem with saying Bush is worse, the same, or better than Buchanan is (1) his term isn't over yet and (2) we have no perspective on him yet; nor do we have access to much information about things he's been up to, comparatively. I say wait ten years and do the analysis again.

Jeff

John Scalzi | December 7, 2005 06:39 PM

Well, ten years from now, the US isn't likely to have Balkanized, so I feel fine in saying he's not worse than Buchanan today.

Jeff Porten | December 7, 2005 08:05 PM

Interesting discussion. Fairly rare you get a chance to opine about 19th-century politics.

Back when I was still doing the master's degree thing (and it's been a while), I read some interesting apologias for Buchanan -- the summary being that by the time he took office, the slavery and Civil War freight train was already going too fast for him to do anything. Federal power was very restricted at the time -- certainly in comparison to what modern observers expect -- and without the support of Congress it's questionable what Buchanan could have done better.

The conclusion drawn at the time was, yes, he sucked, but a) some of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of his predecessors, and b) some of the historical vitriol leveled at him is partially because of comparisons to Lincoln, who was nearly superhuman.

All of that being said -- I think there's a distinction to be made between the awfulness of Bush and the awfulness of Buchanan precisely because the Civil War was a gathering storm for 85 years. But only THIS president at THIS time would have fucked up our foreign policy in exactly THIS way. Our present troubles were entirely optional. So I guess he gets points for creativity.

And an aside to Brian G. -- historians say that there's no such thing as "enough" time to judge history; our views are different than Depression-era writers, which in turn are different from those to be held by those studying under our eventual Overlord Robot Masters. So yeah, I think it's quite valid to say that Bush deserves to be scraped off the shoe of American history, academically speaking, because we all know that from time to time America changes her shoes. I expect that the Theocratic States of America would put W's face on their Crusade banners as they went marching off to the next Muslim nation needing salvation.

claire | December 8, 2005 12:46 AM

yeah, what jeff said. i really don't think there's any comparison. buchanan did not invent slavery. by the time he ascended to office, abolitionists and slave-owners were both so dug in that many historians believe only a war could dig them out. (this is not to mention all the other issues the civil war was about.) drop an incompetent president onto a nation headed for recession and war and you get ... recession and war.

drop the same type of prez onto a nation at peace, with only mild antagonisms towards other nations and with a budget surplus, which also happens to be headed toward a mild recession, and you get ... a mild recession probably somewhat exacerbated by incompetence. plus, a buchanan would probably also have ignored intelligence on al qaeda, so you would have gotten 9/11 as well.

but it takes an *active* incompetence like dubya's, not a passive, live and let die incompetence like buchanan's, to take a mildly bad situation and turn it into a nation at war, with curtailed rights and the public advocation of torture, plus, as someone mentioned, a national debt within six years in the *trillions*, the loss of large components of an educational system 150 years in the making, plus a whole lotta little somethings i don't even wanna get into right now.

buchanan inherited a complete mess and made it worse. bush inherited a moderately healthy nation with some intractable problems and made it a MESS. my vote is for dubya.

J | December 8, 2005 09:42 AM

Jim Winter said:

"Would someone just fellate him so we can start impeachment proceedings?"

Thats the spirit, take one for the team!!! I hear Markers Mark washes the aftertaste away quite well. Let us know how it goes.

metamanda | December 10, 2005 07:28 PM

Those amish girls may have been on rumspringa, for what it's worth.

Bob Oldendorf | December 12, 2005 08:27 PM

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008.


John, I'd like to remind you that there's a strong case to be made that Bush v. Gore already shattered the Republic.


Bush took power by a circumvention of the constitutional procedures in place for handling a contested election: the Republic has been shattered since December of 2000.


That alone puts him in contention for All-Time Worst: his unceasing parade of disasters since seizing power leaves Buchanan in the dust.


George Bush: Worst. President. Ever.

Notta Libb | December 15, 2005 07:36 AM

Check out a site dedicated to the absurdity and satire nature of saying "It's All George Bush's Fault!"

http://www.itsallgeorgebushsfault.com

Regards,
Notta Libb

Brian | December 17, 2005 10:31 AM

I just love it when I finish reading these "historical" judgements about the Bush Presidency, or about Bush the man, and get to the end of the post without having come across one hard supporting fact provided in the article. And you call yourself a 'science' fiction writer? No math? No facts? Surely you can do better, sir. Respectfully.

Let's be very clear about Bush - he's not the brightest light on the Christmas tree, and he certainly grates. I like some of his prepared speeches (the message) but cringe when he chuckles, or takes Q&A with that annoying tone of voice. That said, compared to Carter he wins hands down - no contest (but see below about Iran). Carter did precisely ONE good thing while President, and that was to appoint Paul Volcker as Fed Chairman so we could beat stagflation - thankyou Paul. That was a true waste of four years of 'malaise', but what did we expect from a dark horse candidate chosen at the last minute because the Dems had no one else to offer? Who cares what he's done since then? More recently we got offered Kerry, oh my. I really want a quality choice in '08, from both parties.

What has Bush accomplished? I'd say any President who liberates quite a few millions and assists them on the road to a representative government deserves some credit, no matter how hard that road is. Whether we found WMD's or not kind of pales next to the sheer moral good accomplished. Have Pakistan and India shot nukes at each other yet? For that matter has Pak gone Islamist? Has North Korea taken out Tokyo? Has Al Quaeda destroyed Denver? Has China taken Taipei? Has Saddam slaughtered more thousands? Has France sold him another reactor or the Russians more weapons? One can't but notice a certain change of TONE in the pronouncements of the feared Arab Street these days. They know times are a 'changin, they've started to notice that maybe there's an alternative to authoritarianism and Islamist totalitarianism. Maybe there's an alternative to bombers, beheadings, shredders and secret police visits. Maybe they can find salvation in the ballot box, just maybe. I count that an unmitigated good.

That said, things could still blow up, quite literally. We've lost a year in Iraq to a mistaken initial strategy which we should have spent disarming Iran rather than fighting insurgents, but now that task may fall to Israel as we are still busy. And our boys could use some R&R Murtha thinks (Did we need Petain's advice in WW2? - old soldiers are meant to fade away for a reason!). It could all go quite bad still, as the plausibly deniable nuke Israel plants at an Iranian reprocessing plant goes boom. No way Israel can wait much longer. Hope the mullahs get the message though frankly they are doing the only thing they can to survive - Catch 22 for them, and for us. And if this happens then maybe the detractors will have their wish, and I'll agree with them, and Bush will be remembered as the one whose strategy was too late to stop a nuclear war (or should I say 'nucular'?).

So here we are, for better or worse. Unfortunately for us the Dems could only offer us Lurch, who also got C's in skool, though was better at sounding pompously stupid - a real talent in politics. For all these reasons, I place Bush firmly (for the nonce) in the "satisficing" category of Presidents. Though his legacy is not yet fixed (unlike Clinton's).

Ross James | December 27, 2005 05:19 PM

Mr. Scalzi,

I first visited your website after Glenn Reynolds reviewed OMW. I have been impressed with your approach to writing, publishing, etc. My son is an aspiring writer and I've told him he should look at your site for advice.

The attacks on President Bush, however, have caused me to reassess whether I would like your fiction. These attacks appear to have been ghostwritten by the DNC. I can tell by the comments that most of your posters agree and probably lean far to the left themselves.

I consider myself libertarian, and certainly have differences with Bush on spending and some other issues. But I remember the Heinlein quote, "There is not always someone to vote for, but there is always someone to vote against". The weaklings Bush ran against would have been far worse than he.

They would have spent as much or more than Bush on everything but defense, while not cutting taxes. This would have made the deficits even worse. If you want to be intellectually honest, how about looking up what has happened to tax revenues since the cuts. Just as under JFK and Reagan, they have increased tremendously. The problem is that Congress loves to steal our money and give it to somebody else in order to buy votes.

As far as the war in Iraq goes, do you seriously think that the reforms we are seeing in Lebanon, Egypt, etc. would be happening if Saddam were still in power. It's easy to criticize Bush, but thank God (or whomever) that he was president on 9/11 rather than Kerry.

All that having been said, I plan on reading OMW, and will probably like it. I know it's been compared favorably to Starship Troopers. If it's half the book that ST was, it will have been worth the read. Good luck with your current and future books.

ps, You must not be old enough to remember Jimmy Carter!

John Scalzi | December 27, 2005 05:52 PM

Ross James:

""The attacks on President Bush, however, have caused me to reassess whether I would like your fiction."

Why? Do you think I'll be attacking George Bush in my fiction, which takes at least a couple hundred years in the future? That'd be a little like writing a contemporary war novel in which soldiers in Iraq got all het up about the John Adams, wouldn't it? Damn Alien and Sedition Acts!

As I've noted numerous places, most extensively here, I write whatever I damn well please here, and I don't particularly care if it results in a lost sale or two, not in the least because I think selecting one's recreational reading on whether a writer's politics are similar to one's own is both silly and rather substantially limits one's reading choices. Quite a few of my favorite writers have politics I find inexplicable, idiotic or intellectually slovenly, but as long as they entertain me in the writing that's meant to entertain me, I couldn't possibly care less.

IIf my politics keep you from reading my fiction, that's your decision to make. Personally I think the relevant criteria should be if the politics in my fiction interfere with your enjoyment of the story, and I somehow doubt they will. If you check out the book, let me know if they do.

Max | March 16, 2006 03:08 PM

Regarding the fairly low response rate, I'm not surprised that historians would be less than enthusiastic about commenting about current events. Too many inputs, and too many issues on which we don't have complete information. I think Bush is slightly below average on the whole, and our society doesn't have much patience with average.

For the most part, in today's political climate, if someone comments about Bush's presidency, positively or negatively, that's partisan politics. If they make an observation about something that's happening, it's a fact or an opinion, and objective or subjective depending on their predispositions.

If someone says something about Buchanan's presidency, that's history. A historian will try to weigh the evidence at hand, identify key trends and their consequences, and try to identify the decisions that were made in light of the information they had available at the time. Understanding Buchanan's decisions requires a lot of research into the intellectual trends of his time, something most people aren't used to.

Basic fairness requires that we look at historical decisions in that light. Did companies use lead in plumbing and paints because it was cheap, effective, and easy to use, and had been used since the Romans, or because they knew it would poison children? In retrospect it's a poor choice; at the time, the science wasn't as clear-cut.

Not surprisingly, Bush gets a ton of criticism from people who have made decisions based on what other people might consider a hasty evaluation of the facts, without considering the irony of their knee-jerk condemnation of his knee-jerk acceptance of the pre-Iraq War WMD data.

One of the reasons he doesn't get a lot of fierce defenders is because it's hard to take a strong position on current events without that historical perspective. I think in ten years we'll have a much better idea of his presidency, although the political parties don't like that approach: Republicans want to focus on his achievements and paint a glowing future, and certainly the Democrats would rather gain political advantage at his expense now.

Jesse | February 25, 2007 01:28 PM

Like Ross James I found out about OMW through Instapundit (I meandered my way to this post today via Instapundit too). But even though I disagree with him, Scalzi's position is certainly reasonable. The politics in his writing are even more appealing and certainly aren't "ghostwritten by the DNC", not to mention that they are very addictive and entertaining books as well.

Bush frankly has made a gamble that even supporters of the WoT are doubtful of, like Robert Spencer from JihadWatch or Objectivist cartoonists Cox and Forkum. If we lose the battle for Iraq, for whatever reason, then Bush would easily qualify as being one of the worst presidents for the damage he has done to American interests. Simple as that. There's nothing he's done that can offset that kind of failure, even counting the positive effects of tax cuts on the economy and tax revenue. He certainly hasn't done much to stop congressional earmarking or to promote small government.

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