By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON—It’s official: Bush Derangement Syndrome is now a full-blown epidemic. George W. Bush apparently has reduced more of his fellow citizens to frustrated, sputtering rage than any other president since opinion polling began, with the possible exception of Richard Nixon.
That should be a pretty good indicator of where Bush will rank when historians get their hands on his shameful record—in the cellar, alongside the only president who ever had to resign in disgrace.
A new Gallup Poll released this week showed that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of how the Decider is doing his job. That sounds bad enough—nearly two-thirds of the country thinks its leader is incompetent. But when you look more closely at the numbers, you see that Bush’s abysmal report card—only 31 percent of respondents approve of the job he’s doing—actually overstates our regard for his performance.
According to Gallup, if you lump together the Americans who “strongly” approve of Bush as president with those who only “moderately” feel one way or the other about him, you end up with about half the population. That leaves a full 50 percent who “strongly disapprove” of Bush—as high a level of intense repudiation as Gallup has ever seen in its decades of polling.
Gallup has been asking the “strongly disapprove” question since the Lyndon Johnson administration. The only time the polling firm has measured such strong give-this-guy-the-hook sentiment was in February 1974, at the height of the Watergate scandal, when Nixon’s “strongly disapprove” number was measured at 48 percent. Bush beats him by a nose, but the margin of error makes the contest for “Most Reviled President, Modern Era” a statistical tie.
The Gallup Poll found that among Bush’s shrinking Republican base, he has unusually strong support. Independents, though, have joined Democrats in the Bush Derangement Syndrome clinic: They, too, “strongly disapprove” of the job the president is doing.
Bush didn’t come by this distinction with help from family connections or the Supreme Court. No, he earned it.
Look at the situation Bush’s successor will inherit. Throughout much of the world, the United States is seen as an arrogant bully whose rhetoric about freedom and the rule of law is disgracefully empty. The lawyers and students who are being tear-gassed in the streets of Pakistan’s cities will long remember that when push came to shove, Bush chose to stick with a cooperative dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, rather than live up to his words about the universal value of democracy.
The next president will be left with more than 100,000 U.S. troops still bogged down in Iraq, with an unfinished war in Afghanistan—and, between those two crises, a strengthened and emboldened Iran that hopes to dominate the world’s most dangerous region. Nice work.
Bush’s successor will, incredibly, assume control of a United States government that interrogates terrorist suspects with “enhanced” techniques known throughout the world by a much simpler term: torture. The new commander in chief will almost surely take custody of hundreds of people detained without formal charges, on questionable evidence, and held for years in secret CIA prisons or at Guantanamo. The next president will take over a government that claims the right to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without meaningful judicial oversight.
Whoever takes office in January 2009 will be left with a more polarized economy—an America where the rich have been made richer during the last six years with generous tax cuts, while 40 million people struggle without health insurance. The new president will be left with a government that not only failed miserably in its response to the most extensive natural disaster the nation has ever faced, but also reneged on Bush’s pledge to build a better New Orleans—and make it possible for all those who lived in the city to return.
The next occupant of the White House will find the nation’s coffers depleted by Bush’s wars—the price tag doubtless will have reached $1 trillion by Inauguration Day—and by whatever it eventually costs to keep the housing market afloat.
He or she will inherit, in short, a dismal mess. It will take most of the new president’s first term to begin to set things right.
It’s easy to understand why Americans have come to think of George W. Bush as the worst president in memory, perhaps one of the worst ever. What’s hard to fathom is how we’ll make it through the next 14½ months. But who’s counting.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group