Presidential scholars: Bush is the worst president of the modern era, bottom five of all time

BushBowTie2Let’s fill this under “Duh!” (see History Won’t Warm to “W”)

Over time, as the tragic consequences of our inaction on climate change become more and more obvious to subsequent generations, Bush is certain to fall further (see “Bush will go down in history as possibly a person who has doomed the planet”).

TP has the man-bites-dog story of the year:

Since 1982, the Siena Research Institute has polled presidential scholars on whom they view to be best and worst presidents in American history, based on a variety of issues from “integrity” to economic stewardship. This year’s poll of 238 scholars found that President Franklin Roosevelt was once again ranked on top, joined by Presidents Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, and Teddy Roosevelt to complete the top five. However, President George W. Bush did not fare well since the last poll was conducted in 2002. He dropped 16 places to 39th, making him the worst president since Warren Harding died in office in 1923, and one of the bottom five of all time, according to the experts:

“Today, just one year after leaving office, the former president has found himself in the bottom five at 39th rated especially poorly in handling the economy, communication, ability to compromise, foreign policy accomplishments and intelligence. Rounding out the bottom five are four presidents that have held that dubious distinction each time the survey has been conducted: Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin Pierce.”

Bush was rated second from the bottom on “intelligence,” “foreign policy accomplishments,” and “handling of U.S. economy.” This despite promises from Bush supporters that “history will be very kind” to the former president, as his Attorney General John Ashcroft put it. Bush’s father’s legacy “held constant” in this year’s poll, with George H.W. Bush coming in at 22nd. President Reagan “dropped two places from 16th overall in 2002 to 18th today.” President Obama was ranked 15th. (HT: Taegan Goddard)

And let’s not forget the worst vice president of the modern era:

20 Responses to Presidential scholars: Bush is the worst president of the modern era, bottom five of all time

  1. Rob Honeycutt says:

    This piece reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s roast of Bush. If you’ve never seen the video of this it is an absolute MUST see. Do not miss it! Colbert is absolutely brilliant. He nails Bush like no one else possibly could.

  2. Gary says:

    Obama should tell the general public that it is the fault of the republican
    senators for the lack of available jobs. By blocking the passage of a
    climate/energy they are preventing job seekers from having one. It is their
    fault!…the president ratings would increase.

  3. mike roddy says:

    This is an example of why you can’t trust historians. Andrew Johnson is considered by many to be unfairly maligned, mostly on the basis of his efforts at national reconciliation, and doesn’t even belong in the bottom ten. Pierce was ineffectual, but was a hero in the Mexican War, and corruption was not a problem with either him or Johnson. Pierce did mangle the Kansas-Nebraska act, but the Civil War may have been inevitable anyway. Buchanan suffers from the same problem: any president would have failed in 1857-61, because slavery was a sick cancer that nobody knew how to address. Harding was corrupt and ineffectual, but at least he didn’t do much damage, and died early in his term anyway.

    I don’t see Bush having any serious competition. His administration was so corrupt that industries wrote legislation and designed energy policy. A Vietnam shirker himself, he sent us to a meaningless war over oil, mostly for the benefit of friendly defense contractors. The Constitution was shredded, the environment assaulted, and the wealthy given the chance to double their share of the nation’s wealth.

    These historians have some splainin’ to do.

  4. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Mike… I wouldn’t worry too much. I think “history” is only getting started. I predict that W is going to be the next century’s favorite whipping boy since he f-ed up so royally. (Obscure pun intended.)

  5. Leif says:

    Good points all, Mike, @ 3: Personally I would put the Shrub at the bottom of the barrel without any competition. As the climate chips continue to roll in and the Shrub’s roll in the ensuing devastation continue to mount, I cannot believe there will be any historian worth mentioning that will say otherwise. The death toll of the Civil War will pale in comparison to what is in store in the next 100 years and “Bush Prints” will be all over it like stink on &*#@.

  6. Philip says:

    More important, I believe, is the degradation of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s message to the American people was one of complacency, and many of the problems the country has today are a result of his legacy.

  7. Anne says:

    Worst president, worst governor, worst man, worst person, worst sorry excuse for an oxygen-consuming mammal I’ve ever come across. To think he doesn’t have to answer for war crimes and crimes against humanity and nature is a travesty, something I feel personally embarrassed about as a citizen of the US.

  8. Robert Nagle says:

    While reading James Hanson’s new book, I discovered a fact I had totally forgotten. Bush had made a campaign promise to regulate CO2 which he abandoned a few months later. (I honestly don’t remember that). That about-face is outright deception.

    For all non-Texans who want to really understand George W. Bush, I usually refer them to the Tejas Testing fiasco . Tejas Testing is a scandal born not only of hostility to environmental regulation…but just plain incompetence.

  9. CW says:

    And yet he was RE-ELECTED (or, most would say elected for the 1st time after having stolen his first “election”).

    What does that say about … the US democratic system … Americans … the media … ?

  10. bill says:

    Over time, as the tragic consequences of our inaction on climate change become more and more obvious to subsequent generations, Bush is certain to fall further

    I’d like to point out that not only did he have the worst-ever VP to assist here, he had the enthusiastic assistance of another despicable deputy; my country’s Prime Minister of the time, John Howard, who systematically set out to wreck Kyoto – and everything beyond – on behalf of our coal industry.

    Then we might also consider Bush’s legacy being carried on by Stephen Harper, who was also strongly influenced by Howard…

  11. Doug Meserve says:

    CW — it’s likely that 2004 was stolen as well (Ohio…).

    But your basic point is on the mark — Bush should not have gotten anywhere close enough to winning for those election shenanigans to have made a difference!

  12. Richard Brenne says:

    Let’s compare presidents:

    WORST ON ENERGY: George W. Bush, followed by Reagan, who lulled us into hypnotic complacency when cheap Alaskan and North Sea oil coincidentally came on-line.

    WORST ON PEAK OIL AND ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: Same order. Literally held hands with Saudi royals and figuratively, well, this is a family blog.

    WORST ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Same order. Added to above energy issues being so in bed with fossil fuels and opposed to renewables because of it.

    Bush had his administration censor climate change science as much as they could, when no other president has ever censored science about anything to anywhere near the same degree.

    WORST ON SCIENCE: Maybe Reagan was also anti-science where it didn’t suit him, but I can’t think of any other president even remotely as anti-science as George W. Bush. Thomas Jefferson, who was a world-class scientist in many fields and who founded what has since become NOAA, must have spun enough in his grave during the Bush Administration to power most of the Eastern Seaboard.

    MOST RACIST: Woodrow Wilson from Georgia showed “Birth of a Nation” in the White House. This is D.W. Griffith’s 1915 movie that advanced film technique two decades while setting race relations back three. The film quoted Wilson’s “History of the American People” and Wilson said the movie was true even though it glorified and created a huge resurgence of the KKK.

    But the entire country was infinitely more racist then. In the 2000 election the Bush campaign sent pictures of the McCain family with their dark-skinned adopted daughter and then push-polled by calling rural (and presumably racist) South Carolina voters, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he’d had a black love-child with a black prostitute?” and that helped Bush carry South Carolina after he’d lost New Hampshire by 20 points in the primary.

    The Bush campaign did everything they possible could to disenfranchise and intimidate black voters (since 90 per cent voted for Gore and then Kerry) especially in 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio. State troopers were used to pull over black voters; they were told they were at the wrong polls, the lines at mostly-black polling places extended for many hours, etc.

    Bush showed such deep uncaring for the mostly black and poor victims of Katrina, 1800 dying, mostly unnecessarily, that this uncaring actually seems more like outright contempt.

    So while Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson might have been more racist, compared to the averages of their time Bush might be the most racist president of all.

    MOST SADISTIC: Bush appeared to relish the torture of terrorist suspects and did everything in his power to allow and promote such torture. I don’t know of another pro-torture president. This moves history into a new and extremely dangerous position, because taking the nation from anti-torture to pro-torture means that if future terrorism or wars affect far more Americans, far more enemies and suspects could be tortured at various points in the future, possibly with totals in the millions. Every single future torture could be traced back to Bush and Cheney doing everything they could to encourage the use of torture.

    MOST CORRUPT: Historian Kevin Phillips feels that no president ever had a relationship with any corporation or business that was anything like as corrupt and ultimately destructive as George W. Bush and his father president George H.W. Bush both had with Enron, which played an immense part in the Bush Administration’s energy policy.

    MOST CORRUPT VICE-PRESIDENT: No VP except Dick Cheney has come into the administration as CEO of a company (Halliburton) that was then awarded billions in contracts, including no-bid contracts in Iraq, a completely unnecessary war Bush and Cheney created by lying to all Americans. While Bush wanted to settle family business and Rove wanted Bush re-elected (no sitting president during wartime had failed to win re-election), Cheney wanted to destroy a nation so that his Halliburton could make untold billions “rebuilding” it. Halliburton has been paid these billions, but Iraq’s infrastructure is a tiny fraction of what it was before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

    WORST VICE-PRESIDENT: Well, Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in an illegal duel, fled, then later ran off and tried to create an empire with himself as emperor in the Mexican North and American West. That’s pretty bad.

    But Cheney shot an old guy in the face (who oddly only apologized to Cheney) and pulled more puppet strings than any VP ever in creating two American wars and an unprecedented degree of global empire.

    WORST SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Cheney called Rumsfeld the best American Secretary of Defense ever, and since the truth is invariably the opposite of what anyone in this administration ever said, that’s enough evidence right there to make him the worst. Also Rumsfeld sent soldiers into combat without body armor, and Hummers and countless other vehicles onto IED-laden roads without armor, killing and crippling thousands of American soldiers needlessly.

    WORST ATTORNEY GENERALS: Ashcroft and Salazar, the latter censured more than any other Attorney General, the former committing crimes against American civil liberties, especially his singing.

    WORST NEEDLESS INFRINGEMENT OF CIVIL LIBERTIES: The Patriot Act was the least-patriotic piece of legislation ever passed and more Americans were spied on in more ways during the Bush Administration than during the Civil War and World War II put together, which were infinitely larger threats to our government and people.

    MOST SECRETIVE AND LEAST TRANSPARENT: John Dean said that the Bush Administration was far more secretive and scarily non-transparent than Nixon’s Watergate-era administration that Dean was so familiar with.

    MOST FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE: No other president ever cut taxes – mostly for the richest – while going into such debt to pay more for the most unnecessary of wars. Took America’s biggest-ever surplus and turned it into America’s biggest debt.

    MOST OILY: Both Bush and Cheney were oilmen, Bush through the majority of what is laughingly called a “career”, where he drilled dry holes but got funding and salaries for peddling his father’s influence from the time Bush Senior was Congressman through VP to President.

    MOST COWARDLY AND HYPOCRITICAL: Clinton always opposed the war in Vietnam, where Gore served and Kerry was a hero who later opposed the war with equal heroism and moral courage. Bush and Cheney strongly supported the war in Vietnam while Bush jumped the line into the National Guard he later went AWOL from. Cheney took five deferments to avoid going to a war he supported and wanted those less privileged to fight. No other presidents or VPs come to mind that so strongly supported a war they both refused to fight.

    MOST WAR-MONGERING: No other president led us into such an unnecessary war as our current one in Iraq under such false pretenses and with so many lies. Saddam’s government had no WMD or ties to Al-Qaeda.

    DUMBEST: Bush out-dumbs even Warren Harding, which is incredible.

    LEAST IMPRESSIVE BEFORE AND AFTER HIS PRESIDENCY: As Ronald Reagan Junior said, “What was Bush’ accomplishment? That he was an obnoxious drunk?” Bush was mostly just that up to age 40, and he never achieved one meaningful thing without relying on the influence of his father to get there.

    MOST LIKE A CLASSIC COPPOLA FILM: So Bush Senior developed a corrupt family business, then set up a colleague as head of his own family business in Iraq, Saddam Hussein. When Hussein got uppity, Bush Senior tried to take him out, then Hussein tried to take Bush Senior out, then Bush Junior took over the family business and took out Hussein.

    Isn’t that the script from The Godfather? And how did Fredo become president?

    CONCLUSION: Looking at the evidence, your honor, I’d say that George W. Bush is our worst president ever, and I invite my fellow historians to re-examine the evidence, and using jargon that I hope is not too historian-specific, pull their heads out.

  13. john atcheson says:

    When the Republican hagiography dies down, Reagan will sink another 16 places to fall in the bottom 15. He ran up deficits, got credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union when it was really much more about oil prices, deregulated — leading to devastating economic collapse, and made government a bad word, rendering it impossible to mount a good government. If he’d been conscious of what he was doing it would be pure evil, but in fact, he was clueless — but never in doubt.

  14. Jim Groom says:

    You can’t fix stupid. Ignorance is another matter that can be inproved with education. Was he evil? I can’t say, but certainly not very curious about what his decisions would ultimately leave behind. Truly a tragic figure, even more so than Nixon.

  15. mike roddy says:

    I’m with the commenters here about Reagan, who was certainly the most overrated president of all time. Having been a student during his years as governor of California- and shot and tear gassed by his men- I can tell you that the warm and sunny disposition was Hollywood salesmanship. Underneath dwelt a dark and vicious soul.

    Reflecting on Pierce, Buchanan, and Johnson from the historians’ bottom five made me think about the present. All three of these failed Civil War era presidents had a why-can’t-we-be-friends attitude about the South. Lincoln knew this was impossible as long as they continued to flout the principles of the Declaration and the Preamble.

    Obama, take note. Stop trying to compromise with the kinds of people who own and manage oil and coal companies. They must be defeated and marginalized, making the country and the world a much safer place.

  16. Chris Winter says:

    Richard Brenne: “Let’s compare presidents…”

    Tell us what you really think, Richard. ;-)

    Actually, I agree with most of that. But, a small correction:

    WORST ATTORNEY GENERALS: Ashcroft and Salazar, the latter censured more than any other Attorney General, the former committing crimes against American civil liberties, especially his singing.

    You mean Gonzales, as in Alberto. You must be thinking of Ken Salazar, current Interior Sec’y.

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Mike Roddy (#17) – I’ve been thinking along the same lines. Every single pre-Civil War president passed on confronting slavery. If their heart was in the right place like John and John Quincy Adams, they had a Congress rife with pro-slavery Southerners that prevented even attempts at legislation. (By the way, the Bushes liked to compare themselves with the Adamses. John Quincy Adams was interpreting for the Russian ambassador to France when he was 14. At 14 I’m not sure George W. Bush had heard of John Quincy Adams, John Adams, or France. Come to think of it, maybe not now at 64, either.)

    Then the weaklings like Pierce and Buchanan were especially timid.

    It took the tremendous moral courage and square shoulders of Lincoln to take on this four score and four year burden.

    Obama has the noble ambition, intellect, political and communication skills to be a Lincoln, but he has to decide to take this on in much the same way as you say.

    And he has to recognize that you do not work with the John C. Calhouns, nor the Jefferson Davises, nor the Tony Haywords nor the Don Blankenships of the world, you oppose them.

    And when their purely selfish self-interest and greed opposes you, you say exactly what FDR said when he faced the same thing: “I welcome their hatred.”

    Because it is only then that you know that you are finally doing the right thing.

  18. Richard Brenne says:

    Chris Winter (#18) – You’re right, thanks! Making such a mistake I’ve never felt quite so, I don’t know, Republican. I met Salazar (under quite interesting circumstances I’ve related here at CP before), but never Gonzalez. At least I don’t remember. . .

    And getting a chance to vent about Bush as president was quite cathartic, like ending an eight-year constipation.