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Jim Porter: Former President Bush was worst president in history

Jim Porter
Law Review
By Jim Porter
ALL |

Historians debate who were the worst U.S. Presidents, who should make the Top 10 list. Perennial favorites are James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding and Andrew Johnson. However, that era of presidents had less impact on the country and the world than contemporary presidents.

I submit we have a clear winner: George W. Bush, whose approval rating was the lowest in the history of ratings, whose term in office can only be described as a colossal failure. Now we know why he was called “W” ” for Worst.

When asked recently if he made any mistakes while in office, Bush listed hanging the “Mission Accomplished” sign on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln after the toppling of Iraqi dictator Suddam Hussein in 2003. Incredibly, he didn’t list entering the war which has now cost our country trillions of dollars.

He also noted the scandal surrounding the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but only as “huge disappointments.” As though he was a disinterested bystander.

When it rains on your parade, that is a disappointment. When you fabricate WMD as an excuse to flex the country’s muscles, that is a monumental mistake.

In hindsight, practically every decision the former President made was wrong, resulting in unintended consequences – and he doesn’t even know it. He reminds me of Alfred E. Newman and his immortal phrase: “What, Me Worry?”

Here is just a smattering of Bush failures.

– The lowest job growth during any eight-year span since data collection began seven decades ago.

– Gross domestic product grew at the slowest pace for a period of that length since Harry Truman was President.

– When Bush took office in 2001 the National Debt was $5.7 trillion, having decreased for four years. Now it is $10,631,168,306,166, and the cost of the war in Iraq is approaching $3 trillion (Nobel laureate Joseph Stieglitz). Despite what the former President says, we have not “won the war in Iraq”. More than 4,000 Americans have died, as have hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. We may never win the war in Iraq, and we certainly may never recover from that war in every sense of the word.

When Bush was first elected he inherited a budget surplus, which now is a substantial deficit, a hit of $4 trillion on the country’s balance sheet, according to Newsweek. Who said Democrats are the tax-and-spend party?

Three months before we invaded Iraq, I wrote in this column: “I may be wrong on this, but I doubt that most Iraqis would welcome our occupation and embrace democracy.

While the Iraqi people may not like Hussein as their leader, they sure as hell ain’t going to like us.

“American citizens don’t have the desire or long-term stomach for occupying other countries, nor the bankroll, regardless of how well-intentioned we are to “free” others from dictatorship and share our democratic systems ” even if we also hope to protect the oil market.

“Islamic terrorism will unite our allies. Bombing and occupying Iraq will not ” no matter how good it feels and no matter the merits of doing so.”

If I could get it right, how come our President couldn’t?

Bush and his advisors deceived Congress and America into believing there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, justifying the invasion. He said, “We cannot wait … for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

In fact, as independent study after study has documented, it was an excuse to enter Iraq, take out Saddam Hussein and “bring democracy to the Middle East”. Even the Pentagon has called the war a “huge debacle”.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld shared the belief in the use of U.S. military power to intimidate our enemies. If the U.S. doesn’t strike back “big time” as they said, it would be perceived as weak. “The Bush Doctrine,” which brandished power to force others into line, failed. Old school thinking.

Who needs diplomacy when you have Neanderthals?

I believe the well-intentioned, misguided Bush Doctrine is the cornerstone of our failed international policies ” the second single biggest mistake of the Bush Administration.

He alienated our allies, empowered our enemies and ruined our reputation abroad. He embarrassed us.

Intentionally and naively starting the war in Iraq began a slippery slope. Bush and his closest advisors, including Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Attorney General Alberto (hire only Republicans) Gonzalez expressly authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and invented the term “enemy combatants” for holding soldiers indefinitely. They embraced torture methods in violation of America’s noblest traditions and defied the U.S. Army Manual. They may only be “disappointed” but they are responsible for Abu Ghraib, which dramatically changed opinions about America.

Eight years ago polls showed 85 percent of Muslims liked America and Americans; today, right or wrong, our country is the target of much of the Muslim world. Rather than let international extremists isolate themselves in the eyes of the world, Bush has unimaginably turned world opinion against the U.S.

The world is not a safer place. An intelligence assessment known as the National Intelligence Estimate, which reflects the consensus view of 16 government intelligence services, including the CIA, concluded that the Iraq war has fueled Islamic extremism and contributed to the spread of terror cells, contradicting Bush’s claim that the war in Iraq has made America safer.

Bush and Gonzalez authorized illegal wire-tapping of U.S. citizens, mining databases for personal information without warrants, later determined by the courts to be illegal.

Civil liberties, human rights and the separation of powers, and in general the rule of law, have been inalterably changed by Bush. The Administration lowered the bar on candor and “open government”.

The response to hurricane Katrina was vintage Bush: A belated and ineffective response, standing by his incompetent crony appointee “Brownie,” remaining sarcastic to the end, even recently stating, “don’t tell me the federal response (to Katrina) was slow.” As usual, Bush remains upbeat (or oblivious) even as everything is crashing around him.

Bush and his appointees stripped away corporate and institutional regulations, ushering in a new era of greed, resulting in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, for which he remarkably assumes no responsibility. None. “It happened on my watch” is the best he could mumble.

Bush’s basic domestic policy “what is good for corporate America is good for Americans” was an abysmal failure. Institutional greed has destroyed our economy. It is difficult to choose, but I believe his laissez-faire governance which devastated our economy is his biggest single failure.

Bush’s record on the environment is frightening. He consistently appointed corporate executives to be the heads of agencies regulating the industries they came from. In case after case, federal judges, including Bush appointees, have rejected Bush Administration attempts to increase logging in national forests, avoid protections for threatened wildlife and allow industries to sidestep the mandates of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court sided with California against the Bush Administration, determining that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. I am not aware of any suits in the environmental arena that the Bush Administration won. None. Incredible.

Bush constantly endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to give “intelligent design” equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation’s schools by encouraging the teaching of both. Some feel his policies and sense of righteousness stem from right-wing Christians. My personal take is that both came from Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney.

Joe Klein in Time described George W. Bush’s Presidency as “stupefying ineptitude”. Hard to argue with.

Let’s not ignore that Bush is the worst speaker of any president in our lifetime ” perhaps ever.

As Bush told ABC’s Charlie Gibson: “I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history either, since I am not going to be around to read it”. Whether Bush is around to read what historians say about his eight-year term, we will all pay the price ” forever.

There, I finally got it off my chest. Thanks for indulging me.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Reno and a licensed California Real Estate Broker. He was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission on political ethics and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firm’s web site, http://www.portersimon.com.


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