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We’ve had three Georges as president but only the first and most recent will be studied 200 years from now. History books will say that number one was among the greatest and number 43 among the very worst.
Of all the things President Bush said in his unscripted words in the town hall style meeting covered by on Capitol Hill Blue in “What the Heck is he talking about,” by Deb Riechmann, the following struck me as the most important clue into the workings of our president’s complex and convoluted mind:
About his legacy, Bush said historians are still assessing George Washington, the nation’s first leader. “My attitude is, if they’re still writing about (number) one, 43 doesn’t need to worry about it.”
Presidents and all politicians are used to being excoriated by their critics. This comes with the job and is the kind of heat about which Harry Truman offered future presidents good advice: if you can’t stand it, get out of the kitchen.
Truman knew, as this table shows, since his poll rankings varied from a high of 87% to 23%, a low which was even lower than Bush’s.
Presidential Approval Ratings, Since 1950
|Below are the highest and lowest approval ratings ever received by a president in a national opinion poll throughout his presidency.|
|President||Highest Rating||Lowest Rating|
|John F. Kennedy||83%||56%|
|George H.W. Bush||89%||29%|
|George W. Bush||90%||29%|
|Source: Can West News Service; CNN; “The Ups and Downs of Presidential Popularity,” Ron Faucheux, Campaigns and Elections magazine.|
Public opinion polls are just one way to look at the effectiveness of a president. The opinions of presidential historians is quit different. These are scholars who study presidents in depth and who could if needs be spend an hour profiling any of our 43 presidents.
But after six years of an eight year tenure, being judged as one of the worst presidents in history by the majority of our best presidential historians whose job it is to be objective is something very different.
It takes a stretch of the imagination to understand how a president could handily dismiss even the tentative verdict of these intellectuals.
But Bush has managed to do it in a creative, if illogical, way.
It always sounds a warning bell to me when the narcissism gauge has just strayed into the red zone, as when someone refers to themselves in the third person, sometimes known as the “royal we”.
Bush’s bubble can’t be so impermeable he hasn’t heard some rumblings that historians were ranking him as one of the worst presidents ever.
Here’s someone who managed rise above mediocrity in his previous endeavors to become President of the United States. He basked in the post 9-11 glory of 90% approval ratings, washing away any self-doubt about how great he was.
Bush can’t be a happy camper with so many of his beloved chickens coming home to roost infected with with a nasty political strain of the avian flu. This was recently identified using a tried and true diagnosic device called the subpoena ad testificandum by a new breed of doctors called the veracity virus hunters
If Gonzales and Wolfowitz fail to survive the virus, the next to catch the bug may be Karl Rove (see “Where’s Karl?” by Michael Isikoff) and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Who knows whether one of them might actually start telling the truth if their fever gets too high?
Add that to all the other bad for Bush news from Iraq to the FBI actually doing their job in a nonpartisan way and going after corrupt politicians and, surprise, surprise, finding more Republicans than Democrats.
When a narcissist’s self-esteem is challenged by the facts they can either suffer a breakdown or resort to further self-deception.
The fact that Bush is so unaware of his failings may be mind-boggling to most everyone else. But if nobody he trusts challenges him he will continue to spin fairy tales to himself until the world around him crumbles and then he will most likely suffer a psychological breakdown. His history suggests this will begin with an escape into the bottle.
Bush’s likening himself George Washington, a man who was so highly thought of in his time he actually could have been king had he chosen to, shows the extent to which Bush is deceiving himself in order to protect his inner core of worth.
It is illogical because the reason historians are still writing about George Washington has nothing to do with reevaluating his accomplishments 200+ years later. It is because he is indisputably one of our greatest presidents. Even George W’s father won’t be revered 200 years from now. He’ll be lost among the long list of middling presidents.
It is delusional because the odds are so remote that something will happen in the next two years that will put him at the historic level of a George Washington.
It is ironic because if George W. Bush is going to have books written about him 200 years from now, it will be due to the fact he’s interesting and significant because nobody worse came along and he still ranks as the worst president in history.