An item in my Presidency column this week hit a nerve. Big time.
"The First Draft of History Looks a Bit Rough on Bush" summarized an informal survey of presidential historians who gave George W. Bush abysmal ratings on his job performance. A sampling of the outpouring of comments:
If Bush were a genuine conservative, which is to say, CAUTIOUS, he might be a mediocre president. Instead, he's tried to reshape the world, and that kind of ambition deserves not only the label of "liberal," but a grade of F-.
I'll wager that 100 percent of the historians in Lincoln's time considered him a failure as well!
These historians are obviously people with left bias. I would wonder how they rated Reagan.
Your beloved "W" got us into a completely unnecessary war where THOUSANDS of American soldiers have been killed, and tens of thousands left paralyzed or as amputees.... Yee haw! Shoot 'em up cowboy. Thank God for term limits You people are freakin nuts. And by the way, I'm a Republican.
What caused the ruckus was an unscientific poll of 109 professional historians conducted by the History News Network: 98.2 percent judged Bush's presidency to be a failure, and 1.9 percent classified it as a success.
Robert S. McElvaine, who teaches history at Millsaps College, wrote on the HNN website that the participants were "self-selected, although participation was open to all historians. Among those who responded are several of the nation's most respected historians, including Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize winners."
He conceded that the survey was subject to criticism for being premature, as Bush is still in office. But he added: "Historians are in a better position than others to make judgments about how a current president's policies and actions compare with those of his predecessors. Those judgments are always subject to change in light of future developments. But that is no reason not to make them now."
The debate reminds me of a story my colleague Jay Tolson wrote last year entitled "America's Worst Presidents," which took a fresh look at the nation's most dismal commanders in chief, including Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, John Tyler, and Ulysses S. Grant. What prompted the story then? A USA Today/Gallup survey in which 54 percent of respondents said history would judge Bush a below-average or poor president.
The hubbub shows just how polarizing Bush still is nearly eight years into his presidency.
—Kenneth T. Walsh