In Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, on the back page of an issue with a cover story devoted to solemn memorials of 9/11, Gene Weingarten's "Below the Beltway" humor column lived up to its cheeky title with a column comparing George W. Bush to Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Warren Harding. The headline was: "The Bush League: How low can he go?" Weingarten, a former editor of the Post's Sunday Style section, clearly had fun with this column, which began with a dash of whimsey mixed with venom:
We in the media are sometimes accused of letting liberal bias subtly slip into our writing and reporting. That accusation is calumny. We are dispassionate observers and seekers of truth. All we do is ask questions. Today's question: Is George W. Bush the worst president in American history?
Weingarten's trying to be funny here. (And he can be quite funny.) But he's doing a dead-on impression of the liberal media "mainstream." And after you read him make fun of Pierce, Buchanan, and Harding, Weingarten seems to be making quite a serious case when he gets to the current president:
SO WHAT ABOUT GEORGE W.? Can he take a rightful place among these dwarfs?
Consider some testimonials.
About the president acting unilaterally, without seeking advice or consent: "The incompetence of his administration [has not stopped] it from vigorously defending the president's sole authority to control the execution of the law."
About the president's response to crisis: "He acted with his usual strong determination, dogged stubbornness and confused insight."
About the president's mangling of the English language: "It reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it . . . It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."
Okay, ready? The first two were by historians, about Pierce and Buchanan, respectively. The last was by H.L. Mencken, about Harding. If they sounded contemporary, you may have your answer.
Weingarten is clearly leaving the impression that he's captured Bush perfectly, has him dead to rights. (And I'm sure he wishes he was Mencken, who is always a delight to read, even when he's dead wrong.) But in Googling the first two "historian" quotes, both can be found in a paper by law professors Steven Calabresi and Christopher Yoo titled "The Unitary Executive in the Second Half-Century." The Pierce quote, the opinion of the authors, is on page 43 of the PDF file. The Buchanan quote, which has quotation marks and a footnote, is on page 47. It's an article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. That's pretty nerdy reading for a humorist.
Is he quoting from liberals? No. Calabresi is a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society and served in several GOP administrations. Yoo has written briefs in favor of keeping the Internet deregulated for the Progress and Freedom Foundation.