One of my readers took issue with those assessments, writing:
On what basis do these scholars rank William Henry Harrison, Tyler and Fillmore above George W?I posted my response yesterday:
When Harding died in office he was called “a majestic figure who stood out like a rock of consistency.” At his memorial service it was exclaimed “May God ever give to our country leaders as faithful, as wise, as noble in spirit, as the one we now mourn.”
History will judge George W, and I have a feeling he will get a fairer deal in a 100 years than now.
Any system that ranks Clinton, a man who damaged the office of the presidency, alongside James Polk must have a few flaws.
You can see the rankings for each president, in many categories, here.There’s no question in my mind that Bush belongs in the dark basement of U.S. presidential ratings. That should be just as clear 50, 100, or 150 years from now as it is just a year and a half after he was finally waved out of the White House.
Admittedly, these are unscientific calls. Rather, the historians polled for this survey gave their opinions on how the 43 men who’ve held the U.S. presidency performed in regard to their ability to compromise, their willingness to take risks, their executive skills, their intelligence, their imagination, their relationship with Congress, etc. Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore all received higher rankings in those categories than Bush Jr. did. Only Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson ranked below Bush according to the same criteria.
The reason for Republican Harding’s rapid decline in public opinion was that, shortly after his sudden death in 1923, his legacy was tainted with multiple scandals. First among those was the Teapot Dome affair, which showed that Harding’s flamboyant secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, had taken money from oil companies desiring preferential access to a former naval oil reserve in Wyoming. Later, Secret Service agents disclosed how they’d helped the president arrange trysts with a mistress in the closet of his White House office.
I disagree with you on George W. Bush’s ability to rise much in the ranks of U.S. presidents. I think he demonstrated quite clearly that he was poorly suited to the job, even incompetent in it, a slave to ideology over sense. This was a man, after all, who lied the United States into a prolonged and deadly war against Iraq. A man who refused to become involved in saving beautiful New Orleans from hurricane-whipped waters, but who--pandering as usual to religious rightists, and in concert with congressional Republicans--went out of his way to try and stop a husband in Florida from allowing his wife in a persistent vegetative state to die naturally. Bush frittered away a massive budget surplus left to him by President Bill Clinton, giving unnecessary and budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and refusing to veto massive spending bills sent to him by Congress’ then Republican majority. He further escalated U.S. deficits by throwing money at military build-ups and backing a prescription drug benefit program that didn’t even allow the government to negotiate with big drug companies for reduced rates on their products. This was a man who advocated privatizing Social Security, an idea that would have risked the sustenance funds of millions of Americans (yet a plan that continues to be promoted by right-wing office-seekers). This is a man who appointed thoroughly incapable cronies to vital government positions (remember FEMA’s Michael Brown?), engineered warrantless domestic spying operations, tried to sell shipping operations at half a dozen U.S. seaports to a company controlled by the Middle Eastern government of Dubai, and sought to expand the powers of the presidency well beyond the limits laid down by the U.S. Constitution.
As historian Sean Wilentz wrote in Rolling Stone magazine in 2006, “No previous president appears to have squandered the public’s trust more than Bush has.”