While we’re awaiting the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, it might be worthwhile to take a moment to assess the legacy that George W. Bush leaves us. To 109 professional historians surveyed by The New York Times, Bush leaves behind a rating as one of the worst U.S. presidents ever. In the opinion of Rolling Stone magazine, the presidency is rotting in “colossal historical disgrace.” And to the editors of Canada’s prestigious Toronto Star, Bush is “a unique and unmitigated disaster.”

It should be noted quickly that most of those surveyed did not rate Bush as “the worst,” but rather one of the worst. President James Buchanan was rated the worst by U.S. News, noting that Buchanan was not only incompetent, but led the U.S. into the Civil War, which deprived this country of several generations of American manhood. Buchanan sat by while slavery spread, watching a growing bloc of states becoming the Confederacy.

George W. is viewed by the august historians as not corrupt as was Warren G. Harding, who fleeced the U.S. Treasury. Rather, the historians perceive Bush as forming the U.S. into a rogue country, making enemies of friends by the carload in what the Times calls “cowboy diplomacy.”

While it is true that many readers define Rolling Stone magazine as the home of Hunter Thompson and “gonzo journalism,” its present format deserves our attention. True, Herbert Hoover and the market crash of 1929 are far removed. But to the magazine’s credit, the opinions gathered by Rolling Stone all occurred before Hurricane Katrina, the worsening war in Iraq, and Bush’s complicity in the outing of Valerie Plame.

Our friends across the Canadian border will remember Bush as the president who presided over “the unraveling of the U.S. financial system.” The Toronto Star continued its critique of George W. by naming him more of a warmonger than James Polk who produced (in the Broadway sense) a war with Mexico that enabled us to seize what is now California. “At a very basic level,” the Star continues, “Bush is incompetent. He likes to play commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. But in any other country a commander-in-chief who orchestrated an adventure as disastrous as the Iraq war would be court-martialed.”

Americans are quick to forgive and forget (notice all the German and Japanese cars in your neighborhood). While Bill Clinton was nearly kicked out of office at one point, he is now considered one of the most popular ex-presidents of all time. His speaking fees have made Clinton a multimillionaire and the crowds range from exuberant to fawning. Former vice president Dan Quayle (Mr. Potatoehead) recently had one of his autographs sell for over one hundred dollars on “Antiques Roadshow.” So you see, some foibles are forgivable. But Bush’s pursuit of disastrous policies have placed him in the pantheon of world leaders who have left the world a much worse place than they found it.

Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof says America no longer has global political capital. “Without diplomatic heavy lifting,” writes Kristof, “we can’t credibly threaten military heavy lifting.” He goes on to note that after World War II the U.S. led the world to construct global institutions to promote peace and prosperity. These included the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Before we can participate in any such inspiring architecture in the future, the U.S. must first rejoin the world.

While researching this piece, we came across a book by Dr. Gary Scott titled Faith and the Presidency. It covers all the presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. Of all the leaders, Franklin Roosevelt was depicted as the most devout. Roosevelt included prayers in his speeches, urged Americans to pray, and believed that God directed history and that he was God’s agent. It may surprise some that Dr. Scott regards President Bush as one of our most devout presidents. While not proselytizing, Bush has been known to invoke prayer, reference the importance of faith, and to occasionally quote the Bible.

Some think that it may be Bush’s religious ideology – that people need to help themselves rather than depend on government – that has produced some of his erratic behavior. This help yourself approach means that not only that people must involve themselves in social welfare devoid of government help, but that they also might as well invoke the assistance of a divine power in critical situations.

Such an attitude, Bush’s critics allege, comes from the fact that the Bush administration has been AWOL. For some mystical, perhaps religious reason, Bush has been in a self-imposed exile, leaving things to resolve themselves. But as we have seen in the Middle East wars, conflict does not resolve itself, it just goes on and on. The fact that John McCain and many leading Republicans have chosen to distance themselves from the president attests to the fact that it is not term limits that are denying Bush a third run at the presidency. Most Americans disapprove of the way Bush has handled the duties of the president. His approval rating has plunged from the high 90s to less than 30 percent currently. His decline has been unprecedented and unrelieved, with only next January’s inauguration ending the nation’s long, long nightmare.

CHASE HAMIL

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