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Posted by Time for change in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Fri Jan 23rd 2009, 10:27 PM
107 of 109 professional historians rated George W. Bush's presidency a failure. 67 of 109 historians rated him the WORST U.S. PRESIDENT EVER
Following one of the most disastrous 8-year spans of American history, it is time for Americans to take stock of what went wrong.

This post summarizes an April 2008 poll of 109 historians, conducted by George Mason University’s History News Network, which is the most recent large poll of historians on Presidential rankings that I could find. Though this poll was not a random sample, it was open to all professional historians. At the time the poll was conducted, George W. Bush had completed over 90% of his presidency. Since the major events of his past year in office included our country’s continuing slide into recession and the uncovering of more Bush administration scandals, it can be safely assumed that he would not fare any better if a similar poll were taken today.

General results

Here is a summary of George W. Bush’s ratings, compared with the 41 presidents who preceded him:

Rated worst ever: 67 (61%)
Rated in worst quartile (worst 11), but not worst ever: 38 (35%)
Rated a failure, but not among the worst 11: 2 (2%)
Rated a success: 2 (2%)

Here is a graphic representation of Bush’s ratings of failure vs. success:

And here is a graphic representation of his comparison with other presidents:

Reasons for poor ratings

Here is a sampling of reasons provided by the historians for their poor ratings of the Bush presidency:

The economy

“Mr. Bush inherited a sizable budget surplus and a thriving economy…. Bush transformed the surplus into a massive deficit. The tax cuts and other policies accelerated the concentration of wealth and income among the very richest Americans. These policies combined with unwavering opposition to necessary government regulations have produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”…

“His domestic policies have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled.”…

“Bush does only two things well,” said one of the most distinguished historians. “He knows how to make the very rich very much richer, and he has an amazing talent for f**king up everything else he even approaches.

Bush’s “War on Terror” and effect on our international standing

“In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States enjoyed enormous support around the world. President Bush squandered that goodwill by taking the country into an unnecessary war of choice and misleading the American people to gain support for that war. And he failed utterly to have a plan to deal with Iraq after the invasion. He further undermined the international reputation of the United States by justifying torture.”

“When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point – rightly – to the Bush presidency.”

Other major issues

 “Trampled on our Bill of Rights”; “Has broken the Constitution more often than even Nixon”
 “Appointed foxes in every henhouse”
 “Compounded the terrorist threat”
 “Turned a blind eye to… a looming ecological disaster”
 “Encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism”

General summations of the Bush presidency

“Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self”…

“Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct”…

“God willing, this will go down as the nadir of American politics.”…

“He is not a conservative, nor a Christian, just an immoral man” . . .

“Bush’s denial of any personal responsibility can only be described as silly.”…

“His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history.”

How did we do it?

Americans should think long and hard about how this happened. I can think of four reasons:

Money in politics
George W. Bush received tons of cash for his campaign for the presidency from the rich and powerful… the corporatocracy. These people and corporations contributed huge amounts of money to the Bush campaign because they knew that they would be rewarded many times over. And indeed they were – through massive tax breaks; deregulation of our laws against environmental pollution, worker safety, consumer protection, and much more; and no-bid contracts with almost total lack of oversight.

The corporate news media
Of all the corporations that have the power to influence our elections, those of the corporate news media head the list. Through progressive consolidation of the telecommunications industry, largely enabled by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the news we receive has been controlled by fewer and fewer wealthy corporations. In the run-up to the 2000 elections, they repeated lie after lie against Al Gore, making an honest, decent, highly experienced, and competent statesmen to appear as a corrupt buffoon. In the run-up to the 2004 election, they repeated lies (See section on “The swiftboating of John Kerry”) about John Kerry’s war record, making a true war hero appear as a phony, while covering up for George Bush’s shirking of his National Guard duty as a young man and his lying us into a disastrous war against Iraq as President in 2003.

Election fraud
In 2000, Al Gore received more than half a million more votes than George Bush. But Bush “won” an electoral victory due to a fraudulent election in Florida. Prominent among the reasons for the Bush “victory” were the purging of tens of thousands of mostly Democratic “felons” who weren’t really felons from Florida’s voter roles. Even with that, Al Gore came within 538 votes of winning Florida, before the right wing U.S. Supreme court stopped the vote recount in a 5-4 decision several days prior to the mandatory deadline, in perhaps the most corrupt U.S. Supreme Court verdict in American history. A later non-binding recount of the Florida vote showed conclusively that Al Gore would have been the clear winner if all the votes had been fairly and accurately counted.

In 2004, once again Bush needed massive voter purging – this time in Ohio – to achieve his re-election. In addition, exit polls indicated a clear victory for John Kerry, and there was a great deal of evidence of vote switching on electronic voting machines which counted our votes in secret and could not be recounted.

The gullibility of a segment of the American people
Even with all of the above-noted huge advantages of Republican, corporate friendly politicians, the American people cannot escape some of the blame. Voter turnout in the United States is routinely notoriously low compared to other industrialized countries. And even among those who do vote, too many Americans just don’t pay enough attention and are fooled too easily into believing the crap they’re fed from their corporate news media.

What now?

The problems noted above need to be corrected if our country is to thrive as a democracy. There is a tendency of many liberal/progressive Americans to believe that now that we have elected a new and much better president, our problems will go away. There is no question that Barack Obama will be a much better President than George W. Bush. He may even be a great President. But, as explained in an editorial by the editors of The Nation:

As we have learned from earlier periods of our history, progressive reform is not born from one election but out of a sustained struggle involving a mobilized public seeking change. With the defeat of John McCain, one part of that struggle is over. But another has begun…

The point made by that article and in other articles from the same issue of The Nation is that our country has many systemic problems that will require a prolonged struggle to correct. Chief among those problems is the example set by our outgoing President.

Though George W. Bush leaves office with historically low public approval ratings, as well as historically dismal ratings by professional historians, the many terrible crimes committed by his administration have as yet been unaccounted for and unpunished. Crimes against our Constitution have gone unpunished. Crimes against humanity and war crimes have gone unpunished. If those numerous crimes continue to go unaccounted for and unpunished, that leaves the door open for future corrupt Presidents to commit similar crimes. The American people need a full accounting of those crimes, and we need to set an example that dissuades future Presidents from believing that they can commit similar crimes with impunity. Neither our country nor the world can afford another four years of what we’ve just been through.

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The Unfulfilled Promise
The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream: The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals

Time for change

Notwithstanding the lofty sentiments and purpose of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the reality of the United States of America did not then – and never has – lived up to its ideal. Our nation remains today a long way from fulfilling the promise implied by those ideals. Yet, our Declaration was a great start, and it has long shone as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

Throughout our history, while many have striven to close the gap between our highest ideals and the reality of our nation, others have focused on the accumulation of private wealth and power, at the expense of everyone else. In recent decades the latter have gained much ground, leading to increasing imperialism abroad and deteriorating democracy at home, characterized by routine (and legal) bribery of our public officials, the fusion of government and private corporate interests (corporatocracy), a corrupt election system largely in the hands of private corporations, a corporate controlled communications media, and the widespread acceptance of Executive Branch secrecy, routinely justified with little if any questioning, by the magic words “national security”. All of this is rapidly turning our country from the democracy proclaimed at our founding into a plutocracy (government by the wealthy and for the wealthy). The result is the most obscene wealth gap our country has ever known, the highest imprisonment rate in the world, rampant militarism, routine flaunting of international law, the least efficient health care system in the developed world, a pending environmental catastrophe that threatens to destroy the life sustaining forces of our planet, and myriad other problems that threaten to destroy our nation and tyrannize our people.

My new book, The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream – The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals, explores the roots and consequences of the demise of our democracy, and why most Americans have been unable to understand this process or even become aware of it. A good understanding of why and how we have deviated so greatly from the ideals of our nation is the first and necessary step towards getting back on the right track and revitalizing our society.

The book is currently being sold in electronic PDF format and can be purchased at for $3.99. It will also soon be available in Amazon Kindle format. DU members who cannot afford to buy the book but would like to read it can pm me with your e-mail address, and I will send you a free PDF copy.

I’ve previously posted on DU a slightly earlier version of the introduction to the book, which is also posted at my site. Here is the Table of Contents, followed by a brief description of the three parts of the book:


Prologue – What is Wrong with the United States of America?

Part I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy
Chapter 1 – Legalized Bribery
Chapter 2 – Human Psychological Factors
Chapter 3 – Corporatocracy
Chapter 4 – Corporate Control of Media
Chapter 5 – Corrupt Election System
Chapter 6 – Government Secrecy
Chapter 7 – American Exceptionalism

Part II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions
Chapter 8 – Slavery and its Legacy
Chapter 9 – Early U.S. Imperialism
Chapter 10 – U.S. Imperialism in Cold War
Chapter 11 – Iraq War and Occupation
Chapter 12 – Afghanistan War

Part III – Consequences
Chapter 13 – Election of George W. Bush
Chapter 14 – War and Imperialism
Chapter 15 – Class Warfare
Chapter 16 – Predator Financial Class
Chapter 17 – Shock Therapy
Chapter 18 – Contempt for Int. Law
Chapter 19 – The “War on Drugs”
Chapter 20 – Climate Change
Chapter 21 – “War on Terror”
Chapter 22 – Health Care
Chapter 23 – Unaccountable government
Chapter 24 – Response to 9/11 Attacks

PART I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy

It is somewhat difficult to separate the causes of our problems from their consequences, since they combine to form a long chain of cause leading to consequence, leading to more consequences, etcetera. Nevertheless, it seems worth while to identify the root causes of our problems, those that occur early in the chain and lead to so many of the tragic consequences we see today. The only chance we have of reversing the demise of our democracy is through addressing and attacking its root causes.

At the top of the list is the systematic bribery of public officials by the powerful corporations (Chapter 1) whom our government is charged with regulating in the public interest. Instead of calling it bribery, we call it “campaign contributions”, but what we call it isn’t as important as what it is. It is hard to fathom how democracy can survive when such a practice is legal and condoned.

Working in tandem with our system of legalized bribery is the nature of the people who inhabit our country. That is not to say that Americans are inherently substantially different than any other people. Human beings are imperfect, and that is probably a major reason why in a world where civilization began more than five millennia ago, the oldest written national framework of government in the world today – the Constitution of the United States of America – is only a little more than two and a quarter centuries old. Chapter 2 explores the roles of basic human needs, authoritarianism, psychological defense mechanisms used to prevent us from perceiving reality as it is rather than as we’d like it to be, and corrupted ideologies in causing us to passively accept the accumulation of power in the hands of ambitious and ruthless individuals who care about little else than expanding their own wealth and power.

When bribery of public officials is tolerated as an inevitable aspect of public life, government inevitably grows close to the wealthy interests that shower it with money in return for legislative and other favors. A malevolent symbiosis grows between the state and corporate power, resulting in rule by an oligarchy that is highly detrimental to the lives of ordinary people (Chapter 3). Using their accumulated wealth and power to manipulate our legislative process, the oligarchy grabs for more and more control of the communications media (Chapter 4) that are used to control the information available to and shape the attitudes of our nation’s people, in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Since the 1980s an orchestrated campaign has been underway to demonize “big government”, thereby paving the way for private corporate control over more and more functions that were previously deemed intrinsic functions of government. Among those functions is the running of public elections (Chapter 5) – the function that symbolizes democracy perhaps more than any other single function. Consequently, the purging of selected registered voters from our computerized voter rolls has become a routine recurring event throughout much of our country, and without a doubt determined the results of the 2000 – and probably 2004 as well – presidential election. Just as bad, more and more of the counting of votes in our public elections have been turned over to private corporations, which count our votes using electronic machines using secret software to produce vote counts that cannot be verified by anyone.

Bribery, the fusion of government and private interest, fake and biased news, and corrupt elections are not things that government and its corporate allies want us to know about. Consequently, they construct walls of secrecy (Chapter 6) to keep us from obtaining information that sheds light on their activities. The perfect phrase for facilitating this is “national security”. When our government tells us that the “national security” requires that certain things be kept secret from us, the understanding is that to question such a pronouncement is unpatriotic, and to actually attempt to obtain the “secret” information may be treasonous.

But indefinitely maintaining secrets from the American people can be very difficult, because at least some people want to know what their government is up to. So in addition to the formal mechanisms of secrecy, informal mechanisms are constructed (Chapter 7) to keep vital information away from us. One of the primary methods for doing this is to make certain sensitive subjects taboo – that is, to create the widespread belief that discussion of these topics is so outside the bounds of acceptable human discourse that anyone who discusses them should be shunned by society, or worse. The most common issue that falls into this category is any discussion that sheds light on the disparity between American ideals and the reality of life in our country today.

PART II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions in U.S. History

Notwithstanding the fact that our founding document says that “all men are created equal” and speaks of the inalienable rights of humankind, the United States has throughout its history partaken of massive exploitation of other peoples.

It is estimated that at the time of our birth, 18% of our population was black slaves. In our expansion westwards during the late 18th and 19th centuries, we decimated the original inhabitants of our continent, and often treated them with great cruelty. In 1846 we manufactured an excuse for war with our neighbor Mexico, in which we continued to expand our country westwards and southwards. In 1893 we began our overseas imperialism with the conquest of Hawaii. Our overseas expansion was greatly accelerated in 1898 with our participation in the Spanish-American War, which led to our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. With our arrival at world superpower status at the end of World War II, we began the Cold War, which led to and served as a rationalization for covert and/or direct military actions against myriad foreign nations over the next 46 years. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, we declared a perpetual “War on Terror”, which served and continues to serve as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, nations that posed no threat to us. We do not know when or if this perpetual war will ever end. We don’t know how many additional imperial conquests it will lead to.

Most Americans don’t think much about all this. Many of these actions are done in secrecy, and the American people don’t find out about them until many years later – or we never find out about them at all. Those that we do know about are spun into the most favorable light, to make them seem benign or even noble.

But these actions come at great costs: in the lives of our soldiers; in the ruined lives of the peoples of the victim countries; in trillions of dollars cost to our people and their future generations; in our international reputation; in anti-American hatred leading to terrorism; and, to our democracy itself. For how can a nation claim to believe in the inalienable rights of humankind specified in its founding document, while making a mockery of that belief in the way it treats other peoples? For that reason alone it is worth while to take a brief look at our long history of imperialist actions.

PART III – Consequences

In the Prologue I give a brief account of what I see as some of the worst and tragic consequences of the root causes that I discuss in Part I – to enable the reader to see where this book is heading. When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

In Part III, I explore those consequences in much greater detail, in the hope that the reader will agree with me that these are very serious problems, and that they must be successfully addressed if our country is ever to fulfill the promise of its ideals, or even make progress in that direction. When enough Americans recognize our problems as problems, stripped of the gloss and spin put on them by our oligarchy, they will rise up and do something about them. Until then there will be no progress, and we are very likely to head in the direction of all the former empires of our planet, ending in chaos, widespread catastrophe, suffering, and ignominy.

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