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WaPo editorials: Worst. President. Ever?

His legacy: “We’re in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. It’s a struggle between good and evil.” (Graphic collage: Mike Tidmus)

How’s that legacy shaping up, Chimpy?

Not one, but five Washington Post editorials debate the ranking of Dear Leader as the worst president ever. Raw Story‘s Ron Brynaert rounds them up.

* “At Least He’s Not Nixon,” by David Greenberg. He’s sticking with Nixon as the worst — for the time being; he sees potential for Shrub to outdo the master of disaster and corruption.

Bush has two years left in his presidency and we don’t know what they’ll hold. They may be as dismal as the first six. Future investigations may bear out many people’s worst fears about this administration’s violations of civil liberties. And it’s conceivable that the consequences of the invasion of Iraq may prove more destructive than those of Nixon’s stubborn continuation of the Vietnam War. Should those things happen, Bush will be able to lay a claim to the mantle of U.S. history’s worst president. For now, though, I’m sticking with Dick.

* “He’s The Worst Ever,” by Eric Foner. This is brutal — Nixon is invoked again, and Bush comes out smelling like a dumpster behind a restaurant after a week in 90 degree heat.

Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.

Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world.

More after the jump…* “Move Over, Hoover,” by Douglas Brinkley. This one is a real “ouchie.”

Bush’s legacy hinges on Iraq, which is an unmitigated disaster. Instead of being forgiven, like Polk and McKinley, for his phony pretext for war (WMD and al-Qaeda operatives in Baghdad), he stands to be lambasted by future scholars. What once were his two best sound bites — “Wanted dead or alive” and “Mission accomplished” — will be used like billy clubs to shatter his legacy every time it gets a revisionist lift. The left will keep battering him for warmongering while the right will remember its outrage that he didn’t send enough battalions to Iraq.

There isn’t much that Bush can do now to salvage his reputation. His presidential library will someday be built around two accomplishments: that after 9/11, the U.S. homeland wasn’t again attacked by terrorists (knock on wood) and that he won two presidential elections, allowing him to appoint conservatives to key judicial posts.

* “Time’s On His Side,” by Vincent J. Cannato. He’s sympathetic to Bush, but look at this tepid passage.

Most clearly, the Iraq war colors every judgment about Bush these days — and increasingly, that color is dark. Weakened by the conflict, the administration is now stymied on challenges such as North Korea and Iran. And while focusing most of its energies on terrorism and Iraq, the Bush administration — for which I worked briefly as a speechwriter in 2001 — has been less energetic on the domestic front. Attempts at entitlement reform and tax reform have stalled, as has immigration reform. But there have been domestic policy successes: tax cuts, the No Child Left Behind Act, the prescription drug plan and housing policies that have expanded home ownership. All have their critics, but they represent some semblance of a domestic policy.

He goes on to let Dear Leader off the hook for destroying civil liberties, explaining that the president was dealing with “tough tradeoffs between security and privacy,” and the lack of another 9/11-type attack is proof that he’s not as bad as everyone thinks he is. OMG.

* “He’s Only Fifth Worst” by Michael Lind.

By contrast, George W. Bush has inadvertently destroyed only Baghdad, not Washington, and the costs of the Iraq war in blood and treasure are far less than those of Korea and Vietnam. Yet he will be remembered for the Iraq conflict for generations, long after tax-cut-driven deficits, No Child Left Behind and comprehensive immigration reform are forgotten. The fact that Bush followed the invasion of Afghanistan, which had sheltered al-Qaeda, with the toppling of Saddam Hussein, will puzzle historians for centuries. It is as though, after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, FDR had asked Congress to declare war on Argentina.

Why did Bush do it? Did he really believe that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Was it about oil? Israel? Revenge for Hussein’s alleged attempt on Bush’s father’s life? The war will join the sinking of the USS Maine and the grassy knoll among the topics to exercise conspiracy theorists for generations, and the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib will join images of the napalmed Vietnamese girl and executed Filipino rebels in the gallery of U.S. atrocities.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding