Being ignored is bad enough for anyone. But when you are President of the United States it must be doubling humiliating. Yet Democrats are too busy fighting each other to mention him and Republicans fear to be associated with his record.
Now George W Bush – whose successor won’t take office until January 2009 – is also suffering the indignity of having his historical legacy unfavourably examined while still having almost a year left of his second term. A slew of books and a planned major film are all starting to judge Bush’s place in history even as he keeps the seat warm in the Oval Office.
And so far, the verdict does not look good.
The title of Jacob Weisberg’s recent book says it all. The editor of online magazine Slate called his tome The Bush Tragedy. It is an exhaustive look at the Bush years that paints a portrait of disaster. A publicity blurb for the book, ignoring the fact that Bush has 11 months left in power, talks of the president’s ‘historic downfall’.
Weisberg is not alone in his brutal assessment of Bush’s significance as America, and the rest of the world, waits for the Bush era to be over. A book coming out in March is entitled Reagan’s Disciple: Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Legacy. It has been penned by distinguished Washington reporters Lou Cannon and Carl Cannon and paints a picture of Bush as a man who failed to live up to the expectations of his own party, which had thought he would be a ‘second Ronald Reagan’.
To cap it all, film director Oliver Stone has announced plans to rush out a biopic on Bush in time for the November election. Though Bush may take some solace in being played by acclaimed actor Josh Brolin, Stone’s record of liberal sympathies mean he is unlikely to get a positive treatment on the big screen. He will join Richard Nixon and JFK as having been the subject of Stone’s movies. But both those presidents were dead when Stone made his films. Not still in office.
Experts say the rush to judge Bush’s legacy in print and celluloid is a sign of the modern media times and also of Bush’s powerlessness. Having lost control of Congress, he is effectively unable to drive any policy forward. Thus his legacy is already in place. ‘Bush fatigue has set in. Part of that is him. Part of that is the nature of the modern presidency,’ said Carl Cannon.
Cannon points out that Bush’s legacy means different things to different people. Liberals will see the war in Iraq, high oil prices, Hurricane Katrina and a lax attitude to the environment and conclude that history will judge Bush as an unmitigated disaster.
However, conservatives will point to deeply conservative judges appointed to the Supreme Court as being of huge and positive historic significance. ‘If you are a conservative, Bush’s moves on taxes and judges were what you wanted. He walked the walk,’ said Cannon. But he added: ‘In the long term, Bush’s legacy is unknowable. In the short term, he’s been great for Democrats.’
Political experts agree that any initial historical judgment on Bush may be premature. The reputations of major figures go through a phase of historical revisionism long after they have left office, with even Nixon having been rescued from the disgrace of his exit from office.
‘In 10 years’ time, someone will write a book about how brilliant and foresighted Bush was, even though that might be hard to imagine now,’ said Professor Shawn Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside.