This long Texas Monthly article, “The Test of Time,” (h/t: Paul at Alien & Sedition) has a variety of opinions on how Dubya’s presidency will be remembered. It’s not a flattering portrait, even given its Texas provenance.
Douglas Brinkley refers to Bush’s “meanness of spirit,” noting that Bush isn’t “somebody who was in any way healing the nation or trying to be bipartisan. He became a stubborn ideologue.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson opens her piece this way:
I think that George Bush’s legacy is going to be his use of signing statements [written documents that presidents can issue when they sign a bill into law]. He has used them to replace the veto, which represents a shift in institutional power and alters the relationship between the branches. When a president doesn’t issue a veto until the sixth year of his presidency but nonetheless systematically takes exception to legislation, that person is doing something different from what his predecessors did. Some observers view this as a healthy exercise of executive power; others view it as overstepping. I’m in the second camp.
Michael Lind takes the longer view, correctly placing the Bush presidency as the (literal and figurative) tail end of the GOP’s nearly forty-year dominance of the executive branch. Lind notes that “If you look at George W. Bush in a larger perspective quite apart from Iraq, you see him as the peak of the post-sixties conservative wave that began with the white backlash against the civil rights revolution.” The “worst” appellation comes only hypothetically, when Lind posits that:
If Bush were to attack Iran in the next two years, he could cement his legacy as the worst commander in chief of all time. The Iranians hate the Sunni jihadists and Al Qaeda hates both the Iranians and the Iraqi Baathists. To declare war simultaneously on three archenemies who are not coordinated, who have not formed an alliance against you, is just madness.
Paul Begala’s standard of judgment—the same one he uses to praise both Reagan and Clinton—is “Did George W. Bush accomplish what he set out to accomplish?” This benchmark leads to his evaluation of Bush as “an abject failure.” By the standard of “How long do your benefits last, and how long does it take to clean up your mistakes?” Begala rates Bush as “the worst president in history.” (Even conservative Niall Ferguson is forced to admit that “it’s going to be very hard…to conclude that this was a great presidency.”
H.W. Brands recognizes the two central failures of the Bush era: “The things that he chose to have happen—cutting taxes and going to war in Iraq—were not decisions he had to make at all. He decided to do these things utterly on his own. The fact that he got them both wrong is going to really tell against his historical reputation.”
Bruce Bartlett opines that “There isn’t much question that George W. Bush will rank among the bottom of all presidents in terms of his accomplishments in office,” placing Hoover and Nixon at the very bottom of the list. Bartlett identifies Bush’s two biggest failures as the pursuit of his policies “with such ineptness that he has made things worse” and his closed-mindedness: “He doesn’t listen to anybody. […] You can’t reason with him. You can’t do anything except wait for the clock to run out.
20 January 2009 can’t get here quickly enough.