The Most Successful American President: George W. Bush, Part 1

Column No. 218

About two years ago, on The Political I published a series of columns under this title. I thought it useful to revisit the argument, and will be doing it over my next several columns here on TPJmagazine.

Under the combined efforts of the GOP and their media Scream Machine and Pres. Obama’s determination to “look forward, not back,” the record of the Bush Presidency is receding quickly from public view. Most observers who still look at it (and future historians will return to it aplenty, we can rest assured) characterize as the worst, or at least one of the worst, Presidencies in American history. But “worst” is a value judgment. In this particular case, given my values, I agree with that assessment. But I am not talking here about an application of my values. I am talking about an application of the values of Bush himself and his principal supporters: the extractive industry, military-industrial complex, and prison/industrial complex segments of the US power elite, the thought/behavior-control legions of the Christian Right, and the Republican Scream Machine in the mass media. In applying their values and measuring against them what of his original true goals (not the advertised ones, almost of them being lies) he accomplished, George W. Bush becomes the Most Successful American President. 

OK, OK, but “How can you, Steve Jonas, give him that appellation,” you might ask?  “Awhile back didn’t you say that he was the ‘Worst American President?’ ” And I would say, “indeed I did, but one thing has nothing to do with the other.  In fact, I began my TPJ column of Sept. 14, 2006 with the following text (edited slightly here):”

“George Bush is the worst President the United States has ever had.  Notice that I did not use the word ‘arguably.’  He is simply is.  For one reason.  He is the first President ever to have as his primary goal the destruction of the Constitutional, Democratic, system under which he took power (notice that I did not say ‘elected’), and under which our country has been successfully governed in the 215-plus years since its founding.  This is for him the absolutely primary goal.  For the nation as a whole his achievement of it would obviously be an unmitigated disaster.

“There have been, to be sure, other bad Presidents.  Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan essentially stood by as the nation slid towards civil war.  Andrew Johnson established the basis for what became the South’s long-term victory in that Civil War in every element other than preserving the legal institution of slavery (see my column, “How the South Won the Civil War, Sunday, November 06, 2005.

“Some of those bad Presidencies shared major characteristics with that of the Second Bush.  Ulysses S. Grant (who was drunk in office), Warren G. Harding, and Ronald Reagan presided over Administrations rife with corruption.  James Polk and Lyndon Johnson essentially lied our country into foreign wars aimed at, in the first case, gaining large swatches of the territory of another county, and in the second preventing the establishment, through the Democratic process, of a system of government in another country that ours did not approve of.  Herbert Hoover was incompetent when it came to dealing with major economic and natural disasters, and had a strong predilection for favoring the rich.  Nixon was paranoid; Clinton was personally irresponsible, and so on and so forth.  But none of them set out to destroy US Constitutional Democracy and replace it with a Dictatorship (otherwise known as the ‘Unitary Executive’).” 

And so, you might say, “If, Steve, you can say that, how can you label him ‘Most Successful?’ ” And I would respond, “because it all depends upon how you define ‘success.’   If you define it as achieving goals and objectives that are in the best interests of the majority of the American people and indeed of the people of the world at large, and as meeting to the best of his ability the terms of the oath of office he has taken twice --- ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States’ --- then clearly George Bush has not only not been the most successful American President.  He has clearly been the least successful American President.   

However, let us say that you define “success” as achieving what you, yourself, have defined as “successful,” and then set goals and objectives for you to achieve in line with that definition.  Well, this is exactly what George W. Bush has done. He has ignored the Constitution.  His political and policy agendas, both domestic and foreign ran totally against the best interests of the majority of the people who elected him.  Indeed they ran against the interests of virtually everyone in the country, rich, poor and in between, as we are seeing now. However, look at his agenda, and his definition of success, at what he has accomplished since taking office. Why I think that it is a “slam dunk” that indeed he is the most successful President this country has ever had. 

The estimable Zbigniew Brzezinski and Dennis Ross, former senior US diplomats and national security advisors/consultants, have each written books about the disasters of BushCheney foreign policy.  (Mr. Ross now has a top position in the Obama/Clinton State Dept.) They are, respectively, Second Chance: The Crisis of American Superpower and Statecraft and How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.  They present detail after detail of each foreign policy disaster Bush has created.  Each author then offers a series of recommendations about how the US as a nation can recover, following the end of the Bush Presidency, and they think that it can. 

By anyone’s definition, then the Bush Administration’s foreign policy was a total failure, no?  No.  Not by anyone’s definition.  It is a total failure (or worse) according to the definition of the term used by those of us who believe in: Constitutional Democracy, the Rule of Law, the provisions of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions (which by the provision of Article VI are part of the law or our land), in the role of government as set forth by the Preamble to the Constitution, in the Social Compact established by the New Deal, in the Separation and Balance of Powers and the Checks-and-Balances provisions that are essential elements provided by the Constitution for the effective democratic operation of the Federal government.  For us, whether Republican or Democrat (and yes, there are still Republicans who believe in these principles although their number is dwindling), truly conservative (not Conservative) or liberal or progressive, the Bush Presidency is, to repeat, a failure. 

But for the Georgites, yes for Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and Norquist and Gonzales and Wolfowitz and the whole Neocon Establishment, the Bush Presidency was a resounding success at up until the time of the economy’s collapse.  Even with the economy’s collapse, for some like Grover Norquist the Bush Presidency can still be considered a success. This because the collapse is making it so hard for President Obama and the Democrats in the Congress who are true Democrats to go about fixing the oh-so-many things about our country that need to be fixed and only the Federal government can fix. 

Thus, when we measure the outcomes of the politics, policies, and programs of the Bush Administration in terms of what its original goals and agenda were, a grand success it was.  When we look at what they really set out to accomplish, boy, they are winners.  Not that Bush ever told the American people what his true agenda was, how he was defining success.  In fact, Bush did his very best to conceal his true agenda from the American people, and the Congress too.  Not that a Democratic candidate for anything facing him (much less the Shrum-driven Kerry of 2004) ever had the temerity to flush out and write large what the true goals of the Georgites were and are.  (And for purely political reasons, I am convinced, President Obama chose not to in his campaign, and now in the White House too.) It is not that the true agenda was not there to see, and still is.  It is just that most commentators and analysts who have any significant access to the public airwaves and print media really didn’t and don’t want to talk about it. Politicians with the will and wherewithal to do so are few and very far between. 

In my next column I will begin to look at the record.


This column is largely based on one I published on The Political on June 27, 2007