“History is the last refuge of a failed president,” said Leonard Pitts in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In an oddly defensive farewell address last week, President Bush once again insisted that History alone can render a fair verdict on his time in office. He may be right, but historians won’t need decades to judge Bush one of the worst presidents ever. This is a president, after all, who inherited a prosperous nation and left it bankrupt. He started a war based on a nonexistent threat and bungled its execution. He authorized torture in defiance of the Constitution and international law, and through inaction lost a major American city to a storm. That’s some record, Mr. Bush. “I hope you live long enough to hear history itself tell you what an awful president you were.”
There’s more to Bush’s record than that, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. On the evening of Sept. 20, 2001, Bush stood “before a nation traumatized and in mourning” and pledged to keep us safe. “In that moment he set the standard for the Bush presidency” and proceeded to meet it. In the ensuing years “not a single man, woman, or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil.”
Iraqi soil is another matter, said George Will in Newsweek, and it’s there that this president’s legacy ultimately will be written. If in a decade’s time Iraq is still a democracy, exerting a constant and “improving tug on the region,” then history’s verdict on Bush “will be much less severe than today’s unhinged critics of him can imagine.”
In other words, Bush’s “standing in the eyes of history” will be decided largely by Barack Obama, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. If Obama can find solutions to the remaining problem in Iraq and the growing problems in Afghanistan, Bush may end up looking like a visionary. That’s a little too kind, said The Economist. On Bush’s watch, capitalism has suffered its greatest collapse since the Great Depression, America’s national debt has soared, and the Republican Party was left in shambles. “Mr. Bush’s presidency is not without its merits”—such as his unprecedented efforts in fighting AIDS in Africa—but his few achievements came at a cost that few Americans would willingly pay again. The country is much worse off than when Bush took office, and no passage of years will obscure that reality.