Rolling Stone Magazine: Is Bush “The Worst President in History?”

Rolling Stone magazine – that bastion of American political thought – has a cover story in its most recent edition entitled “The Worst President in History? One of America’s Leading Historians Assesses George W. Bush.” As the picture on the cover was a caricature of the president looking like a dunce, you didn’t have to be a genius to figure out what the answer was. In fact, the author, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, cut to the chase in the opening paragraph:

George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.” 

Yet, as far as I can tell from the posting of this article and its contents, nowhere was it revealed that Wilentz has been a strong opponent of the president’s for quite some time, or that he organized a group of historians and Hollywoodans to protest the November 2000 presidential election results. As the National Review’s Peter Berkowitz wrote in July 2002:

In November 2000, days after the presidential election ended in stalemate, Wilentz assembled a bizarre group that included some of our nation's top professors of constitutional law (including Bruce Ackerman, Ronald Dworkin, and Cass Sunstein) mixed together with actors and other celebrities (including Robert De Niro, Rosie O'Donnell, and Bianca Jagger) and persuaded them to sign their names to a full-page ad in the New York Times that spoke of Al Gore's having won a  ‘clear constitutional majority of the popular vote,’ even though the Constitution says nothing about the popular vote in presidential elections and is perfectly clear that victory goes to the candidate who receives the most electoral votes.”

I guess the Stone’s editors didn’t think it was important to reveal this little bit of history about the author. Regardless, after pondering the possible contenders for such infamy – James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon – Wilentz’s conclusion was predictable:

“Now, though, George W. Bush is in serious contention for the title of worst ever. In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a ‘failure.’ Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's ‘pursuit of disastrous policies.’ In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton -- a category in which Bush is the only contestant.”

As this piece is quite long, and negatively chronicles just about every step the president has taken since being sworn in, I will allow the reader – if he or she so chooses – to delve further into its contents by accessing the link provided above. However, in keeping with the mission of this website, the following statement by the author seems quite relevant:

“Historians do tend, as a group, to be far more liberal than the citizenry as a whole -- a fact the president's admirers have seized on to dismiss the poll results as transparently biased. One pro-Bush historian said the survey revealed more about ‘the current crop of history professors’ than about Bush or about Bush's eventual standing.”

Words of wisdom, Sean. Words of wisdom.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.