There’s not really much that George W. Bush can be grateful for nowadays. U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who’s long denounced Democrats wishing to fetter Bush’s war-making debacle in Iraq, today joined a growing chorus of Republican’ts who want to withdraw nearly all American troops from Iraq by the spring of 2008. Meanwhile, as the fallout continues from Bush’s extraordinary effort to save ex-Cheney aide Scooter Libby from a prison sentence, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled public hearings on the scandal next week, and U.S. Representative Robert Wexler (D-Florida) has drafted a resolution to censure Bush for his commutation.
Still, as Salon’s Tim Grieve points out today, Bush can be happy about one thing: “he isn’t the most unpopular president of all time.” Not yet, anyway. According to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, that distinction still belongs to Richard M. Nixon of Watergate scandal fame, who has the highest unfavorable rating of any of the 43 men who have yet served in the Oval Office--60 percent. By comparison, Bush is viewed unfavorably by 59 percent of those Americans surveyed by Rasmussen.
As this polling company explains, only three other U.S. chief executives score an unfavorable rating of at least 40 percent: Lyndon B. Johnson (42 percent), Bill Clinton (41 percent), and the current prez’s father, George H.W. Bush (41 percent). Of those, however, two enjoy favorable ratings that exceed 50 percent: Bush Sr. (57 percent) and Clinton (55 percent). George W. Bush’s favorable rating is a scant 41 percent, only slightly higher than Grover Cleveland’s (40 percent) but not as high as William McKinley’s (42 percent).
So who comes off best in this poll? Just half a dozen presidents are viewed favorably by at least 80 percent of the respondents: George Washington (94 percent), Abraham Lincoln (92 percent), Thomas Jefferson (89 percent), Theodore Roosevelt (84 percent), Franklin D. Roosevelt (81 percent), and John F. Kennedy (80 percent).
Such findings aren’t particularly surprising. Those last six chief execs are usually ranked well by U.S. historians. And people have fairly short memories; their opinions tend to be strongest about leaders who have served recently, and they often contrast them unfavorably against those who served in the halcyon past--especially, in this case, the first four presidents: Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, and James Madison.
What I do find remarkable is that eight presidents are barely recognized by Americans today. Seventy-four percent of respondents, for instance, have no opinion whatsoever about John Tyler. Sixty-three percent don’t voice a yea or a nay on William Henry Harrison. And the “no opinion” rankings go up from there: Franklin Pierce (59 percent), Martin Van Buren (58 percent), Millard Fillmore (56 percent), Zachary Taylor (55 percent), and James K. Polk (52 percent).
In addition to his being slightly less disparaged that Nixon, I guess George W. Bush can rest assured of one other thing: He’s done enough damage to the United States, both at home and abroad, that--unlike Tyler, Harrison, and those others--he’s not likely to be forgotten at any time soon.
READ MORE: “GOP Senators Who Voted for Clinton Impeachment Dead Silent on Libby,” by Bob Geiger.