What if they are all wrong – and Bush turns out to be one of the great American presidents?

Jonathan Freedland writes a weekly column in The Guardian. He also publishes in The Jewish Chronicle and lived as a reporter in the United States for several years. Norm Geras featured this essay in a recent blog post.

The following is from an essay in The Montrose Journal Winter 2005-6.

     For a left liberal like me, it is not easy to commit heresy. After all, we are meant to be open-minded free thinkers, unshackled by taboos. Nevertheless there is one thought so heretical, merely to utter it would ensure instant excommunication. I hesitate even to pose it as a question. But here goes. What if George W Bush was to prove to be one of the great American presidents?
At first blush, it seems a nonsensical proposition. As I write, Bush’s poll ratings have plunged to the Nixonian depths; one of his top officials, “Scooter” Libby has been indicted on perjury charges, while his closest counsel, Karl Rove, remains under investigation; Bush has botched a Supreme Court nomination; he stands accused of ballooning the federal deficit; images of the dead floating in the streets of a flooded, Katrina-hit New Orleans still linger in the American imagination; and, gravest of all, the death toll of US personnel killed in Iraq is in excess of 2,000. The Bush presidency, even some Republicans predict, will be remembered only as a disaster.

Why do all these people seem like they’re rehashing the assessments of Lincoln, of Reagan, even of Nixon? Because they are rehashing, that’s why:

     And yet history has a funny habit of messing with presidencies. Ronald Reagan was dismissed as a joke by plenty of Europeans and Brits in the 1980s, yet he is revered in the United States as one of the great occupants of the highest office: the national airport bears his name. Even Richard Nixon, for a quarter century a byword for presidential calamity, has found himself the object of some benign revisionism in the last few years. This new version holds that Nixon was strategically sound on the Cold War and surprisingly moderate at home, and therefore insists that his place in the history books should no longer be reducible to that single word: Watergate. Could the historians of the future take a similar, kindly second look at the 43rd president of the United States?

And all the laughter in Europe and among the mandarins here didn’t change the broad American opinion about Reagan. God knows they tried. “Amiable dunce,” right?

     Of course, any claim [for Bush] to greatness will depend on Iraq, a word as sure to be engraved on the heart of Bush as Calais was on Mary Tudor’s. Today’s conventional wisdom, taking in every foreign ministry in the world – including most of the US State Department – holds that Operation Enduring Iraqi Freedom has been a tragedy of errors. Based on faulty premises, disingenuously sold and incompetently planned, the mission of 2003 is widely regarded as an abject failure.
But the future may not see it that way. The war removed one of the most hated tyrants of modern times, shifting Saddam Hussein from a palace to a prison cell. Couple that with the toppling of the Taliban, a regime of cruelty and brutal philistinism, and Bush’s defenders have a powerful opening argument.

These things are true, and the rest of what he has to say about Bush’s legacy is hopeful, even compelling.

It will make Clinton gnash his teeth in the outer darkness if he reads that essay. Poor Bill — you can’t always get what you want…

What remains now, in 2006, here at home, is the immigration issue and domestic spending. Political capital doesn’t earn interest, Mr. Bush. Start spending down now, before the elections this year. Just for fun, veto a spending bill. Or three.

8 thoughts on “What if they are all wrong – and Bush turns out to be one of the great American presidents?

  1. Bush may well go down in history as the great leader who ended tyranny in the world. Just the thought of this drives the dims crazy. IMO the dims want to capture the presidency in 2008 and then rewrite history as the democrats ending tyranny. This is why it is so critical for the reps to keep the presidency in 08

  2. I will never forget the appearance of Nancy Soderberg, a Clintonista who was on her “book tour”,
    on “The Daily Show”.

    This was immediately after the success of the first election in Iraq. Jon Stewart made the statement
    “What if Bush has been right all along” followed by a funny line about this
    collasping his “entire world

    Soderberg responded “We always have Iran and North Korea”.

    Her LSM appearances were cut short after that – have
    no idea how many 100’s of copies her book were actually purchased by non 527’s participants.

    Now they are saying “We always domestic spying blah,
    blah, blah”

  3. I like that quote from the movie “Star Trek – First Contact” where a fictional man of historic note (inventor of the warp drive) was quoted as saying, “Don’t try to be a great man; just be a man and let history decide if you were great.” Bill Clinton could have used that advice.

  4. Of course you can’t judge a president until the passage of at least fifty years. With that passage of time, I am quite certain that Reagan will be remembered as a very poor president and G. W. Bush as worse. Nixon, however, is a much different character. Nixon is the classic Greek hero with a fatal flaw, in his case I think it is pettiness. Nixon could see great things, he opened China, he passed the Clean Air and Water acts, he took the country off the gold standard. Of course, he screwed up Vietnam, that after promising that he had a “secret plan” to end the war. But his real problem was that he became petty and obsessed with enemies. That’s why he had his list and probably what caused Watergate. Historians of the future will be analyzing him long after that have dismissed Reagan and Bush.


  5. Per Joe:

    I am quite certain that Reagan will be remembered as a very poor president and G. W. Bush as worse.

    What are the particulars of your certainty on these two presidents? Freedland laid out his proposition re Bush’s legacy, most of which I agree with.

    Also, as people become more economically literate and have equity in corporate America businesses, their views re the large give-away programs of the Dems (the one that Bush is currently shoveling his own share of coal for)will cause a seachange in American political thinking…


    …when a new generation is no longer burdened with the fiscal responsibilities of a previous generation, they seem to view former presidents on their foreign policy.

    In these two cases, Reagan will be held to account for withdrawing from the fiasco in Lebanon. Bush may be seen as not consistently tough enough.

    Other than that, I don’t understand your position on the Reagan and Bush futures. They look pretty solid.

  6. Dymphna,

    Domestically, Reagan started his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Enough said. Reagan’s policy in Central and South America has led to the current disaster. I’m not talking about Venezuela, but Bolivia, Nigaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. It was only Clinton’s genius that saved us from total economic disaster and Bush is intent on destroying Clinton’s legacy and thus the economic turnaround which he fostered. Clinton was able to see the long term, Bush and Reagan believe in an aristocracy, which I don’t believe is sustainable in the long term. And Bush’s foreign policy is a defense contractors relief fantasy. The point, however, was how interesting Nixon will be for future historians, primarily because of his contradictions. I think they will analyze him even more than Clinton, who also had his weaknesses. Clinton, brillian though he is, simply is not as interesting as Nixon.


  7. Domestically, Reagan started his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Enough said.

    No,it’s not enough. Though one can sure infer a lot from that remark. Racism, perhaps?? Or the fact that Reagan finally began to take away the Southern Dem vote and they’ve never quite recaptured it? But to sum up 8 years’ of a presidency with that is to slough off a great deal of history. It may be “enough said” for you, but it doesn’t say anything to me.

    As Peter Drucker said, “Communication is the act of the recipient.” So if you want to communicate what you mean about Reagan’s presidency you’ll need more than one sentence about where he began his run.

    The problems we have had with south and central America date waaay back to the beginnings of our country. They didn’t start with Reagan and they didn’t exist in a vacuum. The USSR very much infiltrated the area. Carter’s decision to “give back” the Panama Canal now means that China controls it…if you want to start with really, really atrocious presidencies we need go no further than his…we retreated on every front and he left messes we’re still clearing up — e.g., Iran.

    Clinton was quite intelligent but he was no genius. His hubris, his overweening need for a “legacy” and his satyriasis trumped any integrity he had. Clinton is a sad case and a wasted opportunity. His presidency was a fiasco wrapped in a farce — only the MSM managed to save him.

    In his first primary run in NH, a friend said “there’s the emptiest suit you’ll ever see, but he’ll get elected because he knows how to connect with the media.” And so it was.

    A genius does not get disbarred in his home state, or leave the White House in the condition he did. The man’s life is a series of hit-and-run scenarios.

    Apres Clinton, the deluge. And boy are we ever in it.

    If Clinton was so wonderful, why have the Dems gone down the tube? They hold less and less of the House, the Senate, the governorships, and now the Supreme Court.

    Some legacy.

  8. Bush doesn’t have the balls to name the enemy.

    How can we win when we are afraid of naming the enemy? I have nothing but scorn for our current crop of political whores.

    Clinton did not begin any massive economic boom. The fable is so overused and cliche while being patently false. Bush Sr’s tax increases created a mini-recession that the US came out of (with 4% growth) before Clinton ever stepped into office. He luckily claimed the turnaround as his own and a willing media went along with it.

    The greatest economic explosion was produced with Reagan’s trickle-down economics. Unleashing the rich to invest created jobs, wealth, and new taxpayers. It is no accident that revenues doubled under Reagan after the tax cuts. Also consider the 401k laws that allowed money to be set aside tax free in savings accounts. Those accounts provided banks with liquid cash to lend for investment. With the lowering of the capital gains rates, investing in business suddenly was profitable.

    Of course, “profitable” is a dirty word to anyone that thinks Clinton was an economic genius.

    Most likely, the poster wasn’t alive during the 70s to remember the “economic malaise” or “misery index” that democratic economic policies gave us.

    When you cut capital gains taxes and upper bracket rates, you unleash money to invest. That money expands businesses and buys new equipment. Companies hire new employees. Those new employees are new taxpayers. Those new employees now have jobs.

    You know? I’m wasting my time. Democrats just get all glazed-eyed over simple economics and repeat tired old cliches, despite the facts of history. Truth doesn’t matter when it comes to politics.

Comments are closed.