Saturday, August 04, 2007

Who is George W. Bush the Worst President Since?

It's a matter of some controversy among historians...but no matter how you slice it, it ain't good.

But I imagine that history probably has a liberal bias...


Blogger Jim Bales said...

I think our George is the worst leader since King John. Or was it Nero?

OK, he's simply the Worst. President. Ever.

Impeach him. Impeach him now.*

(Note for Tom -- there is no attempt to persuade in this comment, no argument to rebut.)

* Thank you, Brad DeLong.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

there is no attempt to persuade in this comment, no argument to rebut...

Nothing new there, Jim.

I notice the date on the article is 5-17-04. Bush had been president a little over 3 years. They didn't waste much time, did they?

11:50 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Yeah, taking three years to make a decision is stupid. What a bunch of tards.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Nothing new there either.

The ink should be dry on the newspapers before truth gets turned over to the academy.

Ah, how they weighed in on Clinton in 1995. He'd just lost congress for his party, the dot-com boom hadn't happened yet, and welfare reform was still just a gleam in Newt Gingrich's eye.

He's no Bill Clinton - comparison to Harry Truman - Cover Story
Washington Monthly, May, 1995 by Daniel Franklin

It was a tough year for the President. Foreign policy errors bogged down his domestic programs; nominations were stonewalled by a hostile Congress; party insiders even considered recruiting a challenger for the Democratic nomination. He was, in the words of one journalist, "essentially indecisive ... essentially vacillating." Quite simply, Americans began to doubt seriously that he had the character to be the country's top executive.

Yes, 1946 just wasn't Harry Truman's year. But he bounced back, won reelection in 1948, and has received from history a reverence that borders on the Rushmoric. For many Americans now, Truman is seen as a model president--a man of integrity, modesty, and decisiveness. Walter Isaacson of Time called him "America's greatest common-man president." Eric Sevareid said that "Remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like.... He stands like a rock in memory now." So revered is the Man from Independence that in 1992, both parties' nominees fought to be considered "the Truman candidate."

Now that Republicans have both houses of Congress for the first time since 1946, Clinton aides are scanning David McCullough's best-selling Truman biography in search of the magic bullet that will hand Bill Clinton a Trumanesque comeback in 1996. Clinton took the Truman title in 1992, but now the country--and the press--is skeptical. "Bill Clinton," wrote historian James Pinkerton in the Los Angeles Times, "is no Harry Truman."

July 2007:President Bush's 29% approval rating leaves him still more popular than Harry Truman at the low point of his presidency. Truman's rating dipped to 22%.

History regards Truman better than Americans did in 1952, says Alonzo Hamby, Ohio University history professor and Truman biographer.

Truman's prosecution of the Korean War was unpopular at home. The conflict, which ended in 1953 and cost 36,000 American lives, is looked on more favorably today by historians for helping to establish a stable democratic South Korea, Hamby said.

Among Truman's controversies, he fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whom many considered a hero. Suspicions of communist infiltration of the U.S. government led Truman to initiate loyalty reviews that led to hundreds of dismissals. He seized the steel industry in 1952 to prevent a strike. And scores of officials resigned in a bribery scandal at the IRS.

By William M. Welch

History is a fickle thing, especially while it's happening.

3:46 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Damn straight. A Truman biographer says that Truman is regarded MORE favorably today than his 22% approval rate showed him to be regarded back in his day.

That proves that Bush is the same way and that Tom and his friends will laugh all the way to the Reform Club about how silly we were to be rational about things while they were happening.

Why can't we be smart like Tom?

8:42 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Also: "President Bush's 29% approval rating leaves him still more popular than Harry Truman at the low point of his presidency. Truman's rating dipped to 22%.

History regards Truman better than Americans did in 1952, says Alonzo Hamby, Ohio University history professor and Truman biographer."

I'm reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin says "You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well mine are even WORSE!" I never thought I'd see that argument employed in real life. And we are.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

LOL...damn, Mystic, that's beautiful.

It's a whole new fallacy...the Einstein fallacy...or the Calvin and Hobbes fallacy...

Of course, though Tom had a point three years ago, it's all irrelevant now. We've had three more years to see that Bush just keeps getting worse and worse.

He's no Truman, misjudged by his contemporaries, but to be vindicated by history.

Everybody but the last, hard core of bitter partisans agrees that he's one of the worst presidents ever.

Anyway...that Einstein point is freakin' beautiful

9:17 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I'm thinking, to speak technically, this new fallacy should be "Affirming the Plausible Consequent". Formally, this is what's going on:

1) If you're a great president, you MIGHT have a low approval rating.
2) My approval rating is TERRIBLE!
3) Therefore, I must be...a...FANTASTIC PRESIDENT!

9:38 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

It has been decided. I shall call it "Affirming the Merely Plausible Consequent".

9:39 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't think that's a good name, because I don't think that's what's really going on in that argument.

12:31 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well when YOU discover a fallacy, maybe YOU can name it.

But what do you think is going on?

2:32 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

The relevant form seems to be something like:

(A first go at it:)

1. X sucked at an one point

2. But then later x went on to be extraordinarily good

3. Y sucks at this point

4. Y will go on to be extraordinarily good later

So it's like:

All evidence currently points to rain. But there was a really unusual day once on which, despite all evidence pointing to rain, it didn't rain. All evidence points to rain now. Therefore it won't rain.

2:58 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

But he wasn't saying Truman in fact sucked at one point, as your premise 1 states. Rather, the fact was that he was doing the right thing and it just took people a while to realize it.

So I don't think it was that Truman DID suck, but then became good - rather Truman was always good, it's just the approvral rating that was bad.

That's what it looks like to me.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Rather than rehash Bush and the war, I simply wanted to question historian-cum-pundits. Things looked bad for Mr. Lincoln as the war went badly. It's only the kindness of history that separates the incompetence of his generals from his own.

That and the fact he won. If Iraq were going well, we wouldn't be having this discussion. (This isn't to say that Lincoln and Truman and Bush didn't screw up. They did.)

And I don't want to act oblivious to a very good joke at my expense, Mystic, but neither do I want you to feel free to crudely insult me and go la-dee-da from there. As long as you take the time to be amusing and apt, I don't mind you turning the screws at all.

6:42 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

It just seems to me like you assert that there's no way people could be looking at this situation rationally and have any justification in believing that he's a terrible president.

Every time we say the situation looks grim, you seem to provide some evidence that, in the past, situations have looked grim and then turned out to be ok.

So yes, you're correct, that has happened on rare occasions, but the fact that 95% of the time, if not more frequently, people are correct when they use good reasoning capabilities to determine the goodness/badness of a situation prohibits us inductively from believing that this situation is one of those rare 5% cases.

Gotta go with what we know. If it turns out in the future that there's some revelatory information about Bush and the war that we don't know that somehow absolves him of all wrongdoing (I don't know how that could happen, though, given the apparent clear lies he's told) then we'll change opinions. But it's our responsibility as citizens to act rationally and found our beliefs on the evidence at hand, and the evidence points to Bush being a shitbag.


11:48 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

One point Tom has--and which I've made in the past, too--is that presidents (like so many others) are judged on results, not actual competence.

It matters very little that Bush is dishonest and incompetent, so far as his reputation goes.

What matters is results--or, to be more precise, what matters is events that happen while he happens to be in office.

Carter is reckoned a bad president by many, but mostly because there was an oil crisis and the Iranian revolution while he was in office.

Reagan is sometimes given credit for the fall of the USSR because it happened on his watch--though he had almost nothing to do with it.

Clinton got credit for a great economy even though, again, it's just not clear that he was all that responsible for it.

Bush is getting shredded for Iraq. Now, of course, THAT one is almost 100% his fault...and that's so obvious that even the man in the street can see it may be a special case. But if Iraq goes well, Bush will be a hero, even though he lied us into it, he conducted it in competently, and it will take extraordinary luck in addition to exceptional skill by commanders and troops on the ground to keep it from being an unmitigated disaster. (It's already a disaster, but if it becomes a less-bad disaster, it will look good by comparison.)

Of course reasonable people evaluate people on the basis of how *smart* their actions are and how *likely* those actions are to bring success. But as a big ol' group we just aren't too bright, and we seem to evaluate *actual* success or failure rather than smartness and likelihoods.

So if a mysterious burst of radiation from the sky bathes Iraq and somehow brings about victory for us, Bush will be a hero.

This is one reason why it's difficult for folks like me to root for victory in a whole-hearted manner--the only thing worse than losing in Iraq is promoting the popularity of stupid, incompetent, autocratic, radically partisan presidents.

But that's just to say:

The reputations of presidents are often determined irrationally.

Given that fact, yes, Tom is right: Bush may yet end up with a good reputation. It's a coin-toss, so he might win.

Does he deserve a good reputation? No, he deserves to be impeached. He's probably the worst president since...oh, let's say Jackson.

But Jackson himself is regarded as a hero.

So there's hope for W in that very superficial respect.

9:08 AM  

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