HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst

“It would be difficult to identify a President who, facing major international and domestic crises, has failed in both as clearly as President Bush,” concluded one respondent. “His domestic policies,” another noted, “have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled; of encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism; and of crippling the nation’s economic base.”

HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst, Robert S. McElvaine, April 1, 2008

This is old news by internet standards, but I am fascinated as much by the argument– which is specific and detailed and, finally, persuasive– as by the comments. The article is worth reading because it suggests the outlines of how reason might be returned to the public debate over politics.

I included the above comment from one of the surveyed historians because it neatly summarizes the criteria that underlies the assessment. An effective president should mute if not nullify capital, encourage rationality and scientific inquiry, and build the economic base.

I did not check all of the comments, but I doubt there is anyone willing to argue that the Bush administration fought for labor, nurtured the growth of knowledge, and created a thriving economy. At best, the argument is that he “did what he had to do” to fight terrorism.

The comments are interesting because the arguments against the survey’s conclusions reflect exactly the distorted political culture cultivated by the Bush administration. The goal of the anti-survey comments, in other words, is to shift the argument away from the criteria and towards the historians.

Ironically, these arguments reflect exactly the worst sort of bad-faith partisan arguments that the right wing so often attributes to academia. I think this “duck the issue” rhetoric is the best indication that the historians are on the right track. I doubt Bush will look any better in 50 years.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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