Monday, April 7, 2008

Yglesias Just Can't Get it Right!

I've been hammering Matthew Yglesias quite a bit lately, and for good reason, when one considers how nasty his project is sometimes (cheap shots on the dead, for example).

I agree with him today, with one big exception.

According to
a new historians' poll at the History News Network, "more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history."

I'm always skeptical when I see these surveys, considering the over-representation of lefties in the academy.

But check out Yglesias, who caves in to reality at first, by recognizing that near-term historical evaluations are not that helpful in understanding a president's legacy, only to take it all back at the end:

It's very hard to know what to make of these kind of questions. How can you possibly try to evaluate someone like, say, Andrew Jackson in contemporary terms?

At any rate, it will surprise no one to learn that I think Bush has been a very bad president. More interestingly, I also take the view that Bush is probably correct to think that history will remember him kindly. American presidents associated with big dramatic events tend to wind up with good reputations whether they deserve them or not. One possible Bush analogy would be to Woodrow Wilson, who did all kinds of things with regard to civil liberties that look indefensible today and whose foreign policy ended as a giant failure, but who was associated with both big events and with big ideas that were influential down the road. Someday, I bet there will be democracies in the Middle East and some future Republican president will figure out a way to put meat on the bones of "compassionate conservatism" and Bush will be looked upon as a far-sighted figure who made some mistakes in a difficult period of time. Will he deserve a good reputation? No. Will he get one? I'd say yes.
See there? "Will he deserve a good reputation?"

Of course. This a president who staked his administration on something big, something in the grand tradition of American national greatness.

Other surveys have also found President Bush at the bottom of the heap among post-WWII presidents.

But unlike Yglesias, who looks at Woodrow Wilson's record, the appropriate comparison is with Harry Truman, who left office in worse straits than Bush will next January. Truman today is generally in the top-ten lists of great American presidents. But Truman's poll numbers were even lower than Bush's when he left office in 1952.

Note how
Donald Lambro put things in 2005:

Bush's four-year war in Iraq has deeply divided Americans as the U.S. death toll mounts in the face of a furious guerrilla war that shows no signs of abating. Its eventual outcome is an uncertain one as we wait to see if the increase in U.S. forces can show some security improvements there.

But whatever happens on that score, Bush's decision to invade Iraq -- toppling its terrorist government and installing a democratic government that I believe will outlast its enemies - will remain a significant achievement of his presidency.

Five, 10 or 25 years from now, if that system of government still stands, whatever its internal problems and challenges, it will be seen as a major geopolitical change in a region marked by despotism and instability. And Bush will be seen as the leader who brought about that change.
This is the appropriate way to consider this administration: Bush will "deserve a good reputation."

See also, "
Bad Poll Numbers, in Perspective," and "History's Verdict."

For additional analysis, see