With the current impeachment circus of Donald Trump going on, this is admittedly an odd time to post an article I wrote in 2008 about George W. Bush. But perhaps it's worth reminding liberals about Bush while they shriek about Trump. Trump to me, is a bit of a clown (other than his handling of Yemen and prostrating us before Saudi Arabia). Bush was a neocon and let's be blunt, a war criminal. Still, not the worst president ever somehow.
Fewer and fewer people these days would dare say George Bush has been a good president. His approval rating is hovering around 30%, worldwide it is even worse, many staunch Republicans like Chuck Hagel, Gordan Smith, Patrick Buchanan and Bob Barr have turned against him, there have been hundreds of books and documentaries lambasting him, Keith Olbermann and Dennish Kucinich among others demanded he be impeached and even my super conservative roommate is completely fed up with him. I posed this question to him "whenever you think we should do something and then Bush comes out with a similar proposal, does it make you question your assumptions?" His answer: an emphatic "yes!"
Bush has certainly been bad. The wars in Iraq in Afghanistan have so far yielded 4677 deaths and possibly many more suicides as well as countless Iraqi casualties. The reasons for the Iraq war turned out to all be false. His administration failed to stop 9/11 or catch Osama Bin Laden. His policies have vastly increased the number of terrorists as well, defeating the whole idea of a “war on terrorism.” The deficit has skyrocketed leading to high inflation. The economy is also extremely weak making the possibility of 70's like stagflation uncomfortably high. Government spending has increased quicker under Bush than at any time since the Great Society. Of all the embarrassing things he has said, the most ridiculous was probably his attack on John Kerry in one of the debates for "pretending to be fiscal conservative." Sorry sir, you are pretending to be a fiscal conservative. OK, back to the transgressions; the Patriot Act set fire to the 4th and 6th ammendments of our constitution allowing federal agents to search your home while you are not there, with out a warrant and with out even telling you they were there. The Military Tribunals Act is a direct assault on Habeus Corpus, the water boarding, renditions and other torture scandals, the miserable response to Katrina, the Scooter Libby scandal, and then there was that ridiculous attempt to put retroactive immunity into a funding bill earlier this year. There are plenty more, but you get the idea.
So how could such a dismal track record not ordain Bush Jr. as the worst president ever? Well, when you're competing with our 42 previous presidents, you've got a strong handicap to start with! Richard Nixon comes to mind right away. In my honest opinion, Watergate was about the best thing he did. However, the worst of all time belongs to a guy who inexplicably manages his way into most historians’ top 10 lists : Woodrow Wilson.
Woodrow Wilson, wait, let me think... oh yeah, World War I, League of Nations, decent president. Well right on the first two, not quite so much on the third. Many historians have called him an "idealist" for the 14 Points he proposed after the conclusion of World War I. The truth is less appealing, for starters, the man was a die hard racist whose favorite film was D.W. Griffith's Klu Klux Klan adoring The Birth of a Nation. And as one might expect from an extreme racist, upon being elected he almost immediately went about segregating the executive branch.
However, being a bad person doesn't necessarily make for a bad president. Ty Cobb was one of the most miserable human beings that ever lived, but he could sure play baseball. Unfortunately, Wilson’s ugly side was more evident in his policies than his character.
We'll start with his economic policies, which were in some ways prescient (being in favor of centralization), but were also disastrous. He brought us both the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax. You can argue that these are legitimate now (I wouldn't), but economists almost universally blame the Federal Reserve for causing the Great Depression. Some, like Milton Friedman blame the Fed for mismanaging the crisis, others like Murray Rothbard blame it for creating it.
Still, all we have is that he was a racist and his economic policies turned out to be disastrous a decade after he left office. No, those reasons alone won’t do the trick. The reason Wilson was the worst president in history was all about World War I.
In 1914, Europe brought upon the world the worst war we had ever seen. The American people were almost unanimous in wanting to stay neutral. Wilson played lip service to this sentiment, even using the line "he kept us out of the war" to get reelected in 1916. However, Wilson wanted the US to have a seat at the peace conference. (1) He wanted to "make the world safe for democracy." The only way to do this was to get the United States into the war. In many ways he was the first neoconservative (except they don’t like the whole League of Nations idea).
To do this he’d need a reason though. Many believe today the cassus belli for the United States to enter World War I was when 128 Americans died after the Luisitania was sunk on May 7th, 1915. However it was actually two years later when almost simultaneously Germany foolishly sent the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico (who was in the middle of a civil war) recommending they retake Texas and reopened unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson decided this was unacceptable and asked the congress to declare war on Germany (which they actually did back then).
However these were ridiculous reasons on their face. The Zimmerman telegram was bad, but basically meaningless given Mexico’s state of affairs. And was losing a few ships worth hundreds of thousands of American lives? Wouldn’t going to war require more ships to go through dangerous waters? Furthermore, it was blatant hypocrisy. Wilson had no problem with the almost identical policy Britain had in blockading (and starving) Germany.
Wilson went ahead regardless though, and to gain public support for the war he launched the first propaganda ministry in the history of the United States. He set up the War Industries Board that could only be described as fascist. Its job was to control the prices businesses charged, ration resources and bully anyone who resisted into compliance. He censored newspapers, jailed dissidents, initiated the first draft since the Civil War and sent over 4 million Americans to the muddy, rant infested trenches on the Western Front. 117,000 would not return. (2).
Yet somehow it got worse as soldiers returning home brought with them the Spanish flu, which killed another 675,000 Americans. And if all this were not bad enough, his “idealism” failed in every way possible. The 14 Points predictably broke down as the Allies wanted revenge for the brutal four-year war. The League of Nations was all he got through, which the United States didn’t even join. In the end, what Wilson claimed was the “war to end all wars” was only that for 20 years when we were blessed with World War II (the war to end that theory). Unfortunately the peace treaty Wilson wanted so much to be apart of, the vicious Treaty of Versailles, had a lot to do with the Nazi’s coming to power (along with the Great Depression the Federal Reserve helped create).
If the United States had stayed out of World War I, it is certainly possible that the First World War would have ended in a bitter stalemate, which neither side would have wanted to repeat. Instead, one side was humiliated and forced to pay massive reparations. The Nazis capitalized on the discontent the Treaty of Versailles brought as well as Germany’s economic woes to come to power in 1933. While we can never know for sure, it’s certainly plausible that if the United States had stayed out of World War I, we would have never heard the name of Adolf Hitler. Jim Powell strongly defends this argument in his book Wilson’s War. It’s not to say World War II and the Holocaust were Wilson’s fault, but the unintended consequences of his reckless actions should be lessons for everyone today. And it’s still safe to blame him for the 117,000 dead Americans as well as the horrible precedents he set. Afterall, he was the first one that foolishly thought the United States should be the world’s policeman.
So while George Bush has certainly been bad, Woodrow Wilson still has him beat in my book. Luckily for George W, he’s got six months left to screw things up even further. Good luck George.
(1) Tom Woods, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, Pg. 123-124, Regnery Publishing, Copyright 2004
(2) Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism, Pg. 108-113, Random House Inc., Copyright 2007
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