by John MacBeath Watkins
I see in the latest Sienna poll of historians, Andrew Johnson has again been named the worst president ever. He was certainly a not-very-able man placed in an impossible situation, and since he lacked either wisdom or statesmanship he was both unwilling and unable to make the best of it. But for a president who really lacked integrity, I say look to Warren G. Harding. And for one who seemed intent on deliberately sabotaging his country, James Buchanan is tough to beat.
George W. Bush made a fair showing, as fifth worst. He's always seemed more feckless than evil to me, but he was willing to follow the advice of Darth Cheney, our most evil vice president ever. Surely someone who got us into a war we didn't need to fight and made torture the official policy of the US government deserves a high place on this list of dishonor.
I wonder how his reputation will be looked back on in the future. It seems to me that the better we are at fixing the problems he caused, the better his reputation will look in retrospect. But if in the future, our presidents claim the right to arrest American citizens and hold them indefinitely without charge, if torture becomes routine, if presidents ignore congressional subpoenas, Bush will be remembered as the father of these policies, and of the downfall of the republic.
If these policies are reversed and viewed as beyond the pale by future presidents, these will be aberrations, and he won't move up the list of bad presidents. If, say, a President Palin were to embrace these abuses of power, and their practice became standard with her successors, Bush will be remembered as the man who started the destruction of the republic.
Romans kept the dream of returning to a republic alive long after Caesars had become standard, but they were never able to return to it. Through history, democracy has been the exception rather than the norm, and kings, emperors and tyrants have been far more common. Should this become true again, we will have to speak of 1776 as the beginning of the American rebellion, rather than revolution.
We are at a juncture in history where we can abandon the idea of America and become just another tribe, or return to it and by example challenge the power of tyrants as we have for two centuries.