The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has caused a stir by arguing, in Rolling Stone magazine, that George W. Bush may be the worst president in American history. Of course you have to bear in mind that Wilentz, as a good liberal, ranks Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt among the greatest.
Still, he has uttered a judgment with which fewer and fewer people are disposed to disagree. Last week a seemingly apolitical young woman stunned me by confiding, on our first meeting, that she would like to do something more than vote against President Bush. She had just watched a young veteran, his leg smashed in Iraq, painfully board the airplane on which we were riding. It was an indiscreet remark that, had it gotten back to her employer (not to mention the Department of Homeland Security), could have cost her her job and then some.
Polls show upwards of 60 per cent of respondents saying they disapprove of Bushs job performance. But such figures fail to convey the amazing fury the man inspires. Hardly a year into his second term he is effectively finished. Some are irritated by gasoline prices; others are inflamed by illegal immigration; still others are outraged by the Iraq war and by his evident eagerness to widen it to Iran. He is blamed for things that may not really be his fault; he seems to invite judgment for his response to everything from Hurricane Katrina to the corruption in his party. And of course he is spending trillions and trillions of dollars.
With midterm elections looming, Republicans are in terror. On the bright side, to call it that, the Democrats remain a dismal lot, whose only new idea is the same New Idea they always offer: more government. And thats the same New Idea Bush always offers. Maybe the best we can hope for in November is that the Democrats will gain enough seats in Congress to produce gridlock.
Impeachment? A utopian hope, perhaps. And I say it reluctantly, but Bush, though he has much to answer for, really isnt to blame for all that ails us. He just happens to be the focus of myriad discontents that have come to a head during his presidency.
As the old saying has it, if you claim credit for the sunshine, youll be blamed for the rain. By pretending to be in control of events, Bush has fairly begged us to curse him for events he has no control over.
Consider those gasoline prices. Around 1970 or so, I was shocked when the price of gasoline soared to 35 cents a gallon. Where would it all end? At that rate, we might wind up paying as much as 50 cents a gallon! Or more! The mind reeled.
Now we are looking at prices ten times as high. Is that Bushs doing? Well, war in the Middle East hasnt helped. But the war isnt the main reason for the soaring price of oil. The steady debasement of money is, and Bush is only marginally responsible for the Federal Reserve System.
Obvious, really, but try explaining that to the livid driver paying fifty bucks to fill his gas tank. The inchoate rage at what government has done to all of us sees only that Bush is at the apex of the pyramid of power, and if he wants all the credit, welcome to it. The Democrats will be only too glad to assume the role of innocent bystanders at election time.
Or consider the fantastic influx of what are officially called undocumented workers upwards of ten million from Mexico alone. Here again Bush is being widely blamed for failing to stop them. But this is rather like blaming him for failing to stop Katrina. I dont mean to idealize the immigrants or to minimize the dislocations they sometimes bring, but these are poor people who have been driven out of their native country by misgovernment, in the form of an inflation so severe that you wonder why all of them dont leave.
Yet little of the fury over immigration is directed at the Mexican government. When a government destroys the value of money, it impoverishes almost the entire population, except for the few who know how (and are able) to take advantage of the situation. If the peso had remained strong as the dollar eroded over the last generation, today American workers would be sneaking into Mexico to get jobs.
One thing all governments do is misgovern. Every government misgoverns in its own way. Bushs way is but one of many, so as we properly condemn his misdeeds lets keep a sense of proportion.
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