Worst president ever?

The Washginton Post had a very interesting series of essays this weekend trying to place President Bush's presidency in historical perspective (though, surely more than a bit prematurely).  One of my favorite historians, Eric Foner took a crack at it and argued that Bush was the worst president ever.  The highlights:

At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the
eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were
simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen
to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they
surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to
appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and
racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm
elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major
currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush's
presidency certainly brings theirs to mind…

Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to
strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the
Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury,
access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of
statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to
ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration
has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that
have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world.
Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing
judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The
court's unprecedented rebukes of Bush's policies on detainees indicate
how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.

As strong an argument as he may make, I think that Bush's main defender in this series of essays, Vincent Cannato, is right that it is just too premature to make a meaningful historical accounting. 

Historical and popular judgments about presidents are always in
flux. Dwight D. Eisenhower used to be considered a banal and lazy chief
executive who embodied the “conformist” 1950s. Today, his reputation
has improved because of more positive appraisals of his Cold War
stewardship. Ronald Reagan, whom many historians dismissed as an
amiable dunce, has also had his stock rise. On the flip side, Bill
Clinton's presidency looks somewhat different after Monica Lewinsky,
the bursting of the dot-com bubble and 9/11 than it did in 1997.

Bush can take solace in the case of Harry S. Truman, who was reviled at
the end of his presidency, with approval numbers hovering around 30
percent. Too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for
liberals, Truman was saddled with an unpopular stalemate in the Korean
War and accusations of corruption at home. Many saw him as a
belligerent rube, too unsophisticated for the White House.

however, many historians have revised their estimate of his presidency
upward. There certainly are echoes of Truman in the current carping
about Bush…

I don't know how history will judge him. My guess is that, like most
presidents, he will bequeath a mixed record. We can debate policies and
actions now, but honesty should force us to acknowledge that real
judgments will have to wait.

You can read the whole series of essays (they are each mercifully brief by following the links in the box on the right-hand side of either of the essays I linked to).  As for my take, sure it is premature, but as a professional Political Scientist who was also a History major, if I had to guess, I feel pretty confident that 50 years from know Bush will truly be remembered as one of our worst presidents in history. 


America's prison population has reached an all time high—  seven million Americans are currently behind bars, on probation, or on parole.  The article I linked to highlights the disproportionate increase in female prisoners.  As to why most of the women are there, it is pretty simple: drugs.

By year's end, 7 percent of all inmates were women. The gender figures do not include inmates in local jails.

“Today's figures fail to capture incarceration's impact on the
thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison,” Marc Mauer,
the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based
group supporting criminal justice reform, said in a statement.
“Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug
offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of
women in prisons and jails.”

I am not in favor of legalizing hard heroin, cocaine, etc., but neither am I in favor of our current totally irrational, mandatory minimum, sentencing policies.  As much as we keep building prisons, space their is not infinite.  If a rapist or armed robber without a mandatory minimum sentence gets to go free to make room for more non-violent drug offenders who do have mandatory minimums, I have a real problem with that.  In truth, that is the choice are public policies are implicitly making, however.  The average rapist serves 5 years of a 13 year sentence, but a non-violent drug offender can potentially face a 10 year sentence with no prior convictions.   I know which person I'd rather have locked up.

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