I love reading the news on Mondays. All the crazy, overlooked stories from the weekend seem to find their way to my stoop, eagerly awaiting my attention as I sip my coffee. Last week, it was an op-ed by a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, Stephen F. Knott, which claimed, in an alarmingly unsarcastic tone, that, as a country, we have been too quick to judge the presidency of former President George W. Bush.
As the dedication of the former president’s library and museum gets closer, Knott is worried that the fanfare will fall flat and the congratulatory smiles and laughter will all be forced. While that may be due to the fact that dedicating a library and museum to a president whose active disregard of the English language seems to be a bit of a stretch, Knott is under the impression that there is simply not enough evidence available to declare the presidency of George W. Bush a failure. In a world where insurmountable evidence is somehow placed at the same level as “not enough evidence,” it seems to me that they let anyone be professors nowadays.
While Former President Bush’s leadership after the attacks of September 11 are somewhat notable and commendable, we cannot just look at the infancy of his presidency for glimmers of salvageable proof that would somehow warrant a dedicated library and museum, or even the notion that his two terms in office were somehow a step up from complete failure. There is also something to be said for allowing some time to pass before we can really judge a president’s tenure in office, like an artist stepping back to critique their painting once they’re finished, but the proof is in the pudding.
By the time Bush left the White House, the S&P 500 stock market index had dropped 40%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 28%, and NASDAQ had dropped 48%. Need more proof? How about a less than one percent increase in job creation? To put that in perspective, that’s the worst any president has ever done since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics decided to start keeping track back in 1939. But that could happen to anyone, right? Let’s give the guy one more shot. What else did he do? Upon his arrival to the White House, President Obama was left a present from his predecessor: a $1.2 trillion deficit, debunking the ugly myth that 1.2 trillion of anything is a good thing.
While we’re at it, Bush managed to leave not one, but two unnecessary wars. Was he trying to keep us safe? Maybe. Did he succeed? Absolutely not. While the attacks of September 11 were awful and tragic, shaking the very fabric of our country, the person responsible was not brought to justice until the next president. The two wars also resulted in a staggering loss 7,077 Americans, with over 40,000 more injured by foreign terrorists, not including the countless and horrifying cases of PTSD or other effects from war.
Frankly, there could be an entire book written about the foibles and failures of the Bush presidency (books I’m sure already exist), but what shocks me the most, is that Knott has found enough material against the notion that Bush failed as president to write his own book defending Bush. Knott has labeled any and all criticism of Bush to be “overheated rhetoric and fear-mongering”, and has accused many scholars of not doing enough research on the President, but Knott fails to recognize that many scholarships are living the failures of Bush, whether its from the loss of a loved one who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, or the loss of a long career and their health care, the loss of their home, the loss of their privacy, and the loss of their sense of safety as Americans.
Knott argues, “There is a difference between punditry and scholarship. The latter requires biding one’s time and offering perspective as the evidence emerges and the passions of the day cool.” Unfortunately, most Americans have already seen the evidence they need, and don’t have the luxury of “biding one’s time” as they search for a new meaning of what it is to be American, and how to survive in a cancerous economy.
While there have been many past presidents whose terms have been viewed in a much better light after the fact, the perception of Bush’s failure as president does not rise, as Knott suggests, from “partisan scholarship,” but instead from the crippling and suffocating debt, lack of safety, and lack of transparency that the Bush administration perfected during its eight year tenure. Knott even gives his reader the benefit of the doubt by admitting that Bush “may not have been a great president; he may have even be considered an average or below-average president, but he-and more important-the nation deserve better than this partisan rush to judgment.”
Five years after he’s gone may not be a long enough time to wait before doling out judgments for some people, but I do believe that the time for calling these judgments partisan bickering has long since passed. Facts are facts, after all.