Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush should feel history’s sting

January 15, 2009


“History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” — George W. Bush

Dear President Bush:

I am glad you are, at 62, still a relatively young man. I am glad you are in robust health. This means there is a good likelihood of your being with us for decades yet to come and I dearly want that. You see, history’s verdict is on the way and I want you to see it for yourself.

We’ve been hearing the “h” word a lot from your surrogates, your supporters and you as you make your final rounds before handing over the keys to the new team. History, we are told, will render the truest verdict on your time in office. History, it is implied, will say you were a far better president than we ever gave you credit for.

You said it again Monday in your farewell news conference. History will have the final say.

It is a curious position for someone who has been, as the quote above suggests, rather dismissive of history’s judgment. It occurs to me that, as patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so history is the last refuge of the failed president.

But you and yours keep returning to it, reminding us how Harry Truman left office not much more beloved than you are now, but history took another look and decided he was a better president than anyone thought at the time. Frankly, the very fact that you and your team repeatedly invoke the 33rd president in defending your legacy is rather telling.

That’s not a defense, it’s a Hail Mary pass. It’s hoping against hope. Truman enjoyed an extreme makeover, yes. Most presidents do not.

Yes, history does refine our initial assessments of a given president. But those refinements usually move in increments.

You would need more than increments of movement, sir. You would need a football field. I don’t see it happening.

Credit where it’s due: you were the best U.S. president Africa ever had. Your work to reduce AIDS rates on the mother continent never got as much attention — and praise — as it deserved.

But there the list ends: I find it impossible to think of another praiseworthy achievement. The failures, though, rush readily to mind: Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Justice Department scandal, torture, Iraq War, Social Security, immigration. ... You leave a legacy of regression and division, and a nation worse off by multiple measures than before you took office.

But you know what, sir? That’s not even the worst of it. No, the worst is the way you turned our government into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, the way you disdained objective truth in favor of ideological fiction, the way you treated dissent as disloyalty, the way you repeatedly poured sewage on our heads and swore it was water from a mountain spring.

So yes, I’m happy you’ll likely be around 20 years from now. Because, contrary to what you seem to think, it doesn’t take centuries to get some initial sense of history’s verdict. That takes about a generation. Meaning that when history weighs in on your presidency, you’ll probably be here to see it. And I don’t think you’re going to like it.

Yes, I’m stepping out on a limb here. The future is, by definition, unknowable. But it is simply inconceivable to me that history will judge you anything but harshly. Frankly, I think it will judge us all that way, will marvel at the things we let you get away with, the principles Americans can betray, when they are scared.

As with the internment of the Japanese during World War II, and the McCarthy excesses of the 1950s, I think fear will be the defining statement of this era. Fear, and the terrible things we did, condoned and became as a result.

Godspeed, then, Mr. Bush. Good health and long life. I hope you live to hear history itself tell you what an awful president you were.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on


Cait McKnelly 6 years, 10 months ago

There is no cure for megalomania like that. He will die thinking he was the greatest president that ever led the country.

jayhawkologist 6 years, 10 months ago

The thing that really intrigues me about the readership of the LJW is how, as a newspaper in the liberal mecca in the heart of the 'Red States of America', someone could possibly claim that Mr. Pitts's columns are using reverse racism. Given the fact that the so-called 'moral majority' in this nation helped put both the USA and ultimately the world through one of the most trying times in American and world history, and given the laundry list of failures by administrations during the W. Bush era, I really don't see how anyone could defend our (thankfully) outgoing administration.

Left_handed 6 years, 10 months ago

Most objective assessments of W's presidency suggest that history won't be entirely unkind to him. Partisan assessments, such as the one offered by the uberlefty Leonard Pitts, are, of course, negative.

oldvet 6 years, 10 months ago

and when LP retires, no one will ever remember him for anything... he will just fade into oblivion...

JohnBrown 6 years, 10 months ago

It's truly ironic how bin Laden united this country and Bush divided it, both by using "fear". Bush's greatest disappointment was the 'Mission Accomplished" sign on that carrier photo-op. Wow. No regrets for attacking the wrong enemy, no regrets for mis-handling the war for the first 5 years (and killing a lot more of of our guys and gals for no reason than bin Laden did), no regrets for politicizing the Justice Department, or for running our military into the ground, and no regrets for spreading fear to gain political advantage.As for Bush's "grade" for being president. I think he's earned a size EEE.Bush did more to hurt this country than bin Laden ever did.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

Bush's mistakes/failings are much more obvious than his strong points.Also, those mistakes are huge in terms of their impact on our country.I would be very surprised if "history", whatever that means, doesn't judge his admistration rather harshly.

50YearResident 6 years, 10 months ago

Finally, a Pitts article I can agree with 100%........

Chris Ogle 6 years, 10 months ago

"Why did this have to happen on my watch" said Bush.

gogoplata 6 years, 10 months ago

I guess it will depend on who is writing the history books. I used to think the Civil War was fought to abolish slavery.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

"I used to think the Civil War was fought to abolish slavery."Well, in fact, that pretty much was the main reason it was fought, but I'd be interested in hearing what you think the real main reason was.

gogoplata 6 years, 10 months ago

This is an small article with some good references you might enjoy reading.

kansaskate 6 years, 10 months ago

The Civil War had very little to do with abolishing slavery from the get-go. That was not what that war was about. Economics and power, like every other war you can name.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

The civll war was about the balance of power between slave and free states-- westward expansion was on the verge of exploding, with Kansas being the main battleground in this power struggle. Whether states were admitted as slave or free states would determine that balance of power. There were many intertwining issues besides slavery, but far and away it was the single largest reason behind the civil war. Northern whites, both farmers and businessmen, did not like having to compete with the slave labor of the south. The mostly agrarian south, whose politics were dominated by wealthy slave holders, didn't like many of the policies favored by northern industrialists.

fonz73 6 years, 10 months ago

ScottyMac ---That article was a great read. Thanks!

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