Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 17, 2008

Article published Sunday, November 16, 2008

by David M. Shribman

NOW that we know what the near future might look like, it may be worthwhile to ponder how the past BE AFRAID !!! BECAUSE PARANOIA IS PATRIOTICwill appear.

All eyes now are on President-elect Barack Obama as he prepares for power. But the more instructive exercise may be to examine what President Bush will look like a generation or more after he leaves power in January.

The fact that the President was all but invisible at Republican congressional and senatorial rallies and barely appeared at John McCain’s side this fall is a potent measure of the disrepute in which Mr. Bush is held – and of the steep hill he has to climb if he is ever to claim historical redemption. But all chief executives leave office knowing that their reputations in history often have little to do with contemporary views of their presidencies.

John Adams was the only early president to fail to win a second term until his son also achieved that distinction; today he is regarded among some historians as a pillar of probity and judgment. Dwight Eisenhower left office with people saying that if Americans wanted a golfer in the White House they should have elected Ben Hogan; now the 34th president is regarded as a shrewd wielder of power and people, the master of the “hidden-hand presidency.”

On Election Day 2008, even as Americans were going to the polls in record numbers to repudiate the eight years of Mr. Bush, the Wall Street Journal ran not one but two pieces that referred to the revisionist view of Herbert Hoover, long regarded as the founding father of the Great Depression and as the high priest of stubborn American individualism. The Herbert Hoover birthplace in West Branch, Iowa, is a lonely place, especially on a windy plains afternoon, and Hoover remains one of the great punching bags in American civic life and on the cabaret comedy circuit. But in recent years, some historians have acknowledged that some of Hoover’s efforts to fight the economic crisis were precursors to the New Deal, not impediments to Franklin Roosevelt’s battle plan.

In all of American history, no man may be a more successful rehabilitator of presidential reputations than David McCullough, who first rescued Harry S Truman and then, in perhaps an even more difficult accomplishment, pulled John Adams from the recycling box of history.

“I was very interested in the individual man, the personality, the character, the quality of mind, and the quality of resilience, keeping a clear eye on the mission,” says Mr. McCullough. “The best presidents have all had a strong sense of history and saw themselves as not being just judged by tomorrow’s headlines and polls.”

So is there hope for George W. Bush, whose approval ratings on Election Day were around 20 percent, the lowest ever for a president, according to the CBS News tracking poll?

The answer: Maybe. The ironic reason why: Mr. Bush’s place in history may depend on how well President Obama performs.

Mr. Obama has no brief for Mr. Bush, as we saw in a year of brutal campaigning against the Bush record, the Bush persona, the Bush philosophy. But if Mr. Obama withdraws American troops from a more tranquil, if not exactly serene, Iraq, then historians may say he was able to do so because of the success of the Bush Surge. If Mr. Obama stabilizes the Middle East, historians may say the ground was prepared by Mr. Bush’s resolve in eliminating Saddam Hussein from power. If Mr. Obama brings some order to the financial markets and some confidence to American consumers, historians may credit the dramatic action undertaken by Mr. Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

There is no question that Mr. Bush faces an arduous climb toward presidential rehabilitation. The model may be Truman, who was reviled at the end of his term. Today he is a folk hero and a byword for presidential character.

In his own time, Truman was regarded as a failed president, surrounded by corruption, ineffective in the Cold War, and utterly unable to measure up to his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. He also had Korea, a disastrous, inconclusive war, on his record.

But Truman now is regarded as having been the first president to take major steps toward civil rights, including the desegregation of the armed forces, and is credited with the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin airlift, and the creation of NATO. “It’s a formidable record and it came to look more formidable over time,” William E. Leuchtenburg, the distinguished University of North Carolina historian, said in a recent conversation.

Mr. Bush has professed little interest in how history regards him, just as he professed little interest in his public-approval ratings. But he is from a family with a history – his grandfather was a Republican senator from Connecticut, his father a member of the House, a diplomat in Beijing, the director of Central Intelligence, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief American delegate to the United Nations, a two-term vice president and a one-term president.

“The main factor is time,” Mr. McCullough says. “Some 50 years have to pass. You have to wait for the dust to settle. You have to see what follows them. You need information to come to the fore that isn’t available in contemporary times. It’s very hard to judge how presidents will be evaluated.”

Mr. Bush plainly knows this. No man lives in a house redolent with history and makes decisions that will live in history without recognizing the caprice and ultimate justice of history. And remember, at Yale, Mr. Bush majored in … history.

(*) – David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.




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