On Tuesday January 20th, George Walker Bush’s tenure as the 43rd President of the United States came to an end. Save for the right wing TV station, Fox News, and a couple of other right wing website which seem willing to defend his administration, the overwhelming opinion is that he is the worst President ever. Just after September 11th, his popularity rating was a gigantic 92 percent. This week according to CBS his rating was a paltry 20 percent, the lowest rating for any American President. Bush will now certainly replace Harry Truman as the patron saint of unpopular presidents. That is some feat. Bush is worse than Richard Nixon, who was impeached and forced to resign; worse that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge who sat by the sideline as the Great Crash got started; worse than Herbert Hoover, the president who helped steer the economy into the Great Depression in 1929, and then presided over steady economic deterioration; and worse that James Buchanan, the President who was unwilling to challenge those states that declared their intention to withdraw from the Union – this eventually led to the American Civil War.
The reasons for his unpopularity are manifold. On the domestic front, he was a resounding fiasco. His handling of hurricane Katrina which devastated the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was inept. He failed to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Instead of visiting New Orleans in person he watched the disaster from the comfort of Air Force One. His administration was utterly unprepared and for the most part uninterested in the calamity. Bush rejected the widespread criticism of his leadership after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. He argued quite lamely that if he had ordered Air Force One to land rather than fly over the scene of devastation, police officers would have been diverted from helping evacuate victims.
Most analyst have pointed out that since Bush took power in 2001, every US social indicator has worsened. Between 2000 and 2008, median household income has declined by 1 per cent, while corporate profits have surged by 70 per cent, and the gap between rich and poor is larger than at any time since 1929. The number of families living in poverty has jumped by 20 per cent, as has the number of people without health insurance. The cost of insurance for those fortunate enough to have it has, meanwhile, jumped by 90 per cent.
His handling of the economy was a calamity. His predecessor, Bill Clinton, left a budget surplus in excess of US$ 170 billion. Bush is leaving with a record budget deficit of over US$ 1 trillion. During his tenure, US trade deficit surged, and the dollar lost significant value. More than 500,000 Americans lost their jobs in November 2008 — the highest monthly total in more than 30 years and nearly 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008 the worst year for job losses since World War II. In 2008 alone, over 20 banks collapsed in the US. The Big three US carmakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, came close to filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy. At a time when the world has heralded the demise of communism and was hailing the victory of capitalism, the Republican administration of George W. Bush presided over one of the biggest Government intervention in US history by committing taxpayers to bailout mortgage corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, AIG amongst others. In the end the first Chief Executive with an MBA degree has turned out to be the most incompetent making some of the biggest fiscal blunders in history.
Bush did not find any redemption in the international arena. Indeed to a large extent his unpopularity is due largely because of his blunders on the international stage. His Presidency will be defined by the war on terror. The true mastermind behind 9/11 Osama bin Laden, has still not been found. Instead of pursuing him, he engaged the US in a costly and bloody adventure in Iraq under the false premise and intelligence of looking for weapons of mass destruction. More than 4,000 U.S. troops have died in combat in Iraq. The administration went in without an exit plan and completely mishandled the war. The US’s reputation as a human rights leader was seriously dented. He refused to abide by the Geneva Conventions, his troops abused, tortured and sodomised prisoners held at Abu Ghraib, wiretapped their own citizens without warrants, and tortured prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as well as at “secret prisons” abroad. If the US had signed the Rome Statute, Bush would be a prime candidate to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the real frontline of the terror war, Afghanistan, the war is being lost. There has been a resurgence of rebel activity in Afghanistan that has increased the danger faced by American soldiers.
No progress was made in the Middle East. His administration completely lost its way in the region. Israel’s current onslaught on Gaza is a direct result of the failed policy of the Bush administration. He endorsed Israel’s assault and abstained from a successful UN resolution demanding a ceasefire. Thus far US policy in the Middle East has had only one beneficiary – Iran.
Bush’s blunder was due primarily to the fact that he surrounded himself with a band of neo-conservatives who regularly misled him. His Vice President Dick Cheney led him to trample on the US Constitution on the guise of strengthening the presidency. Bush allowed Karl Rove, once described as his evil genius to politicize the war on terror.
His only lasting legacy will be his invaluable contribution to the English language, which he assaulted and butchered with impunity. He became famous for long, rambling sentences and grammatically incorrect speeches. But for some confusing ballot papers in Palm Beach County, Florida, in 2000, America and the World would not have endured this presidency. What an insult for his father to suggest that his brother Jeb should run for the presidency. Good bye George W. Only the comedians will miss you.
By Edward Wright