There is much agreement by scholars as to the greatest presidents; they are Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, with Harry Truman, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson not far behind. These great leaders provide a standard by which all presidents are measured -- and clues as to how Bush measures up. From the great presidents we know that the country is well-served by leaders who exhibit the following traits:So where will George W. Bush rank among presidents? What will be his legacy?
- Humanity, compassion, and respect for others
- A governing style that unifies, not divides
- Rhetorical skills and the ability to communicate a clear, realistic vision
- Willingness to listen to experts and the public
- Ability to admit error, accept criticism and be adaptable
- Engaged and inquisitive, with a sense of perspective and history
- Integrity, inspiring trust among the people
- Moral courage in not shrinking from challenges
Unfortunately, Bush's presidency has been the polar opposite of this list. This brings up the matter of who are our worst presidents. Again, scholars are in agreement, listing Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.
Like them, Bush has been tone deaf, disinterested in advice and evidence that contradict his beliefs, intellectually disengaged from the crises that have enveloped his administration, and arrogant in exercising power. Bush's failure is most apparent in the major crises of his presidency, namely mishandling the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, recklessly amassing the world's largest deficits and debt, and failing to lead on pressing challenges such as the skyrocketing costs of health care, fuel and a college education.
In each case, he steadfastly refused to adjust, adapt or alter his flawed strategy. These missteps bode poorly for Bush because a president's ultimate legacy is how he responds to crisis, particularly war.
Bush will likely be remembered much as is Warren Harding, who was disinterested in policy details, brought a group of corrupt cronies to the White House and stumbled through one mishap after the other. He is remembered as something of a jovial but incompetent puppet for corporate interests, and for setting the nation on a course to the Great Depression.That's right, the Bush legacy will be the three D's; Death - Deficits - Deceit.
But it is James Buchanan, president from 1857-1861, who often earns the dubious title of "worst president" because he lost the Union to civil war on his watch, and failed to change course until it was too late.
When history renders its cold assessment of George W. Bush, I believe he will find himself alongside Harding and Buchanan as one of the worst presidents in American history. Bush's legacy will likely be that of death, deficits and deceit, and it could well take this nation a decade or more to recover from his presidency.