Race to the Bottom: Is W Really the Worst?

by John Peeler —

Is George W. Bush really the worst President in our history? It’s easy to think so, what with the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, the bungling of the war in Afghanistan, the fraudulent conspiracy to go to war in Iraq, the prolonged disaster of the war in Iraq, and the utter failure to anticipate and counter the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. I mean, how could anyone do worse?

We have here the key elements of the worst presidencies: dishonesty and incompetence. Dishonesty is easily seen in the buildup to the Iraq War, as the President, Vice President, and key members of the administration systematically sold a story about weapons of mass destruction, and complicity in 9/11, that they knew was false. They had a project to remove Saddam Hussein, even before 9/11, and evidently thought that any manipulation of public opinion was justified in order to build popular support.

Incompetence is visible at multiple levels, from the stupid decision to invade and occupy Iraq with an inadequate force, to the failures of FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to the faith-based affirmation of free-market policies even as the economy was showing signs of strangling on junk mortgages.

So, yes, W is a strong competitor in this historical race to the bottom. Who are the other leading laggards?

The prize for consequential dishonesty (as opposed to low-grade corruption) could go to James Buchanan, predecessor to Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan was a Northern Democrat who was elected with Southern slaveholder votes. He managed to be officially against slavery while doing everything he could to support it, to be opposed to secession while doing absolutely nothing to prevent it.

Then there was Rutherford Hayes, a Republican whose election in 1876 was secured by a deal with Southern Democrats that exchanged their votes in the Electoral College for an end to Reconstruction. This deal cleared the way for reassertion of white domination of black citizens in the South, a domination that ultimately took the form of legal segregation and de facto disfranchisement. It took more than a century (and still counting) to erase the effects of this corrupt bargain.

Both Buchanan and Hayes were egregiously dishonest. But when it comes to sheer incompetence they were eclipsed by Warren Harding, the Republican successor to Woodrow Wilson, who was elected on the promise of a “return to normalcy” (“normalcy” wasn’t even a word before Harding; he should get some credit for that!). Harding was not directly involved in the Teapot Dome corruption scandal, but several of his closest associates were, and it has been speculated that his premature death from a heart attack might have been related to finding out what his friends had done.

Ulysses Grant was perhaps the most competent pre-president who became an incompetent president. He was the Union’s most successful general, the conqueror of General Lee, but like Harding later, he presided over egregious, over-the-top corruption, without benefiting at all himself. He seems to have spent most of his eight years in office in a drunken haze, and died shortly thereafter.

john-peeler.gifJimmy Carter was without doubt the most competent ex-president who was an incompetent president. After losing to Ronald Reagan because he couldn’t cope with the Iranian revolution that his own policies had helped to promote, he later became such a successful statesman that he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

So George W. Bush has some competition. Some have been as incompetent. Some have been as dishonest. But none have combined those two qualities at such a high level.

Bushie, you’re doing a heck of a job!

John Peeler

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  1. WomanforPeaceSanity says

    After reading THE DARK SIDE by Jane Mayer, I believe that the war criminal accusation must include David Addington (Cheney’s atty.), John Yoo and Flanigan, the three attorneys who went completely around the Rule of Law, the Geneva Convention, the Military Code of Conduct and the Constitution to frame their partisan, political, Executive Power Paradigm (signed by Bush), giving unfettered power to the president to detain, torture and kill anyone whom he deemed to be an “Enemy Combatant”, regardless of the proof that a court of law would require! These partisan ideologues believed that Congress and the U.S. Courts should have no authority whatsoever in making the decisions in Bush’s War on Terror. In fact, they made sure that their war criminal atrocities be carried out in secret, beyond the radar of the U.S. courts, Congress and the American people. They made Nixon look like a piker! It will be a sad day in U.S. History if these men are not brought to account for their outrageous and illegal behavior and tried in the very court of law that they disdained and evaded.

  2. John Gwazdosky says

    Is W Really the Worst? This man and the following must be charged with War Crimes. Bush, Cheney, Wolfitz,Rumsfield, Feith, Hadley, Rice, and Treason on Karl Rove for his part in the outing of Valerie Plame. There will never in our time be a Worst President that Bobble Head Bush, the list of things the he and his administration have done to our Country will never be surpassed again. This man especially belongs in Jail! NO QUESTION! He leaves us in such financial distress that it will take years for the best intentioned next President to over turn the damage he has done. In his final days he continues to do damage and has no shame. He is the only President in my time that came read material and when he is done does not have any idea of what he has said. You kidding me – HE IS THE WORST!

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