Columbia professor Eric Foner claims in the Washington Post that George Bush is the worst president ever, and that there is “no alternative” to ranking him as such. Foner once was a good historian. His book Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy is excellent, and I understand that Karl Rove, a true student of American history, has spoken well of Foner’s work. But anyone who would state, in a president’s sixth year of office, that there is no alternative to adjudging him our worst president has substituted partisan passion for objective historical thought.
It would be nice if such a historian would at least try to make a case. Foner can hardly be bothered. He notes that some of our bad presidents were unwilling to change course even in the face of adversity and strong public disapproval. But so, of course, were some of our great presidents, most notably Lincoln.
Foner argues that some of our bad presidents were corrupt, and goes on to assert that Bush’s corruption is even worse than that of Harding. If there were a board that considers historical malpractice, Foner would have to appear before it for that one. Bush’s administration has been nearly corruption free by historical standards. I may be missing someone, but the only high-profile administration offical I can think of who has faced criminal charges or had to resign in the face of scandal is Scooter Libby, who worked for the Vice President and who is not accused of corruption. Compare this record to that of President Clinton, who had dozens of administration officials, including cabinet members, in legal trouble, and who himself lost his law license because he committed perjury.
Foner’s only other argument is that Bush has attempted to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date back to the Magna Carta. But neither the Magna Carta nor any other legal document grants the rights in question to foreign terrorists. Foner has no expertise in the law as far as I know. If he did, and if his hatred of Bush didn’t continue to blind him, he would understand that the issues he refers to are novel legal ones, often with no clear answer. They are being worked out by the legal system. The rule of law is safe, and certainly safer than when it was when Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus or when Franklin Roosevelt imprisoned Amercans of Japanese origin without legal process. Foner rates Lincoln and FDR as among the three indisputably great presidents in our history.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
“Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” Inscription on the Liberty Bell