By October, 15 months before his presidency would end, George Bush's approval ratings still hovered around 30 percent.
His administration will go down, say historians such as Columbia's Eric Foner and Princeton's Sean Wilentz, as a disaster. As Wilentz put it, "Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history."
A new genre in American popular culture has arisen comparing Bush to Hitler--on the Internet, and in fiction, stand-up comedy, and drama. To the radio personality Garrison Keillor, Bush's Republicans are "brownshirts in pinstripes"--echoing Al Gore's similar slur of "digital brownshirts."
Even Bush's supporters seem resigned to such abuse. They are talking not of a restoration in public esteem before the president leaves office, but rather of a Trumanesque turnaround: a once-despised president only years later becomes appreciated for his unpopular but necessary decisions.
But for now, Bush seems to have an orphaned presidency defended by very few. From the left, he is criticized for his tax cuts for the rich, his lack of concern for African-American victims of Katrina, his illiberal homeland-security measures--and always for Iraq, with shrill, persistent choruses of "preemption" and "unilateralism." Much of this anger against Bush is Pavlovian and superficial, deeply embedded within the president's caricatured dead-or-alive, smoke-'em-out lingo.
As a result, the left gives the president no credit for policies that have irked his conservative base. In his first term, he increased federal spending at a faster rate than Bill Clinton. He extended the reach of federal education policy with his No Child Left Behind legislation, and he did not veto a single spending bill, instead sponsoring a major new prescription entitlement for Medicare recipients. His immigration bill, blasted by many conservatives, ultimately failed, but still won over Senator Ted Kennedy and infuriated red-state America.
So will Bush leave disgraced and confirm this prognosis of worst president? Probably not--and not merely because we have had far worse, from James Buchanan to Richard Nixon.
Start with the fountainhead of Bushophobia--the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. The surge that began in June seems to be working far better than anticipated. Should such tactical progress translate into strategic success--the verdict is still out--historians may conclude that George Bush removed the two worst …