Charles Krauthammer: “So unpopular that Truman left office disparaged and highly out of favor. History has revised that verdict. I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration.”
I assume this Truman argument is comforting to all unpopular presidents, but it’s really got some pretty obvious problems.
That said, I’ve always maintained that there’s a healthy chance Krauthammer is right. This, though, says less about Bush than it does about “the verdict of history.” As Gene Healy observes in his excellent book, The Cult of the Presidency, “history” has a tendency to assess presidents pretty much exclusively on the basis of whether or not interesting wars happened during their president. Given that the Iraq War, disaster though it was, clearly isn’t going to result in an American “defeat” and surrender and so forth, Bush will probably fit the pattern. He’ll never rank up there with really successful war presidents like Lincoln or Roosevelt but he meets a “dramatic wars happened and America wasn’t conquered” baseline that’s required for a positive evaluation over the long run. That’s a nonsensical way of looking at things, but it’s the way “history” works — prudent stewardship of the county à la Bill Clinton gets you nowhere.