Of corpse-kicking and His Irrelevancy

Via Corrente, Harold Meyerson wonders in The Washington Post why the peasants havent’t picked up their pitchforks and lighted their torches to storm the Bastille:

So where’s the outrage? Why aren’t demonstrators besieging the White House? Where are the “Welcome to Bushville” signs in those neighborhoods where abandoned homes outnumber the occupied ones?

The answer, I suspect, is that you can only irreversibly give up on a president once. Further catastrophic failures on the president’s part elicit only diminishing returns. Buchanan did nothing while the South seceded: That was it for him. Hoover did nothing as farmers, workers and middle-class America got wiped out: With that, he was beyond rehabilitation. Nixon had Watergate: Enough said. One mega-strike and you’re out.

Bush, however, has had three. He misled us into a nearly endless war of choice to disarm a threat that never really existed. He let a great American city drown. And now he stands by while the economic security of tens of millions of Americans is vanishing.

Yet in the hearts of his countrymen, Bush’s place is already fixed. Even before the financial collapse, he was in the ninth circle of presidential hell, with Buchanan and Hoover. At his own party’s national convention this summer, his was the name that no one dared speak. And so, though his mishandling of the economy is criminally inept, he is being spared one more outbreak of public rage by two countervailing public sentiments: Americans’ relief that he soon will be gone and their kind reluctance to kick a corpse.

Your political grave? I'm dancing on it!

I think Meyerson is right that “you can only irreversibly give up on a president once.”  I think for most Americans, who (unaccountably, in my opinion) seem to have supported Bush’s drive for war in Iraq in 2002-03, Hurricane Katrina was the decisive moment when they saw that Emperor C+ Augustus had no clothes.  And if you’ll recall, this impression was only magnified when the devastation of New Orleans was immediately followed by the laughably disastrous nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court.  This recession/depression is just the latest turd in the punchbowl of the Bush presidency.  Since most of us stopped drinking it years ago–if indeed we ever bothered to taste a draught–it’s beside the point.

What do you think?  Do Presidents have only one opportunity to blow it, or can you think of instances when the American people granted a mulligan to U.S. Presidents to blow it again?  Are Americans in fact too kind to kick a corpse?  I’m not sure I am too kind, but I’m only too happy to see this judgment of the Bush presidency rendered even before his presidency is officially over.  Welcome to the Pantheon of failed presidencies, Your Irrelevancy!  John Adams and James Buchanan sure are happy to see you.

0 thoughts on “Of corpse-kicking and His Irrelevancy

  1. (Oh heavens, I had forgotten Miers. Do Republicans have a trend for picking unqualified women for important positions…)

    In order to kick a corpse, one must notice it first. There are really a lot of things far more important than the last couple years of inept flopping about, and the general attitude seems very much to be, “Oh, we have a President? I thought he wasn’t being inaugurated until January.” Bush is just such a mediocre, unimportant person!


  2. Well, Nixon kind of messed up a lot as VICE-President, then got beaten for promotion to the presidency, but was mulliganed back into higher office eight years later. (The *real* one-and-done crowd in recent decades is people who have run for president and not won, or even won and not been inaugurated. They are automatically consigned to the lifetime dustbin of book tours and globetrotting consulting initiatives; for-profit or not).

    For that matter, Kennedy screwed the pooch at Bay of Pigs only months into his only term (taking a bad handoff from the Eisenhower/Nixon apparats), and was given the grace to wobble the country toward treacherous waters in Southeast Asia. Opinion is much divided over what he *would* have done if he had lived, but that’s sort of outside the historian’s realm. Hard to believe now how briefly he actually presided, or how that all seemed to have happened hundreds of years ago.

    I’m steamrollering over Buchanan (our only Pennsylvania president) tomorrow in a desperate bid to get the Civil War underway and in the can before we crash through the back walls of the semester! Why does the first “half” of the U.S. History survey start on the Bering Land Bridge thousands of years ago and run deep into the Nineteenth Century, so that recent Americanists can glide home at something like a decade a week during the spring semester? Talk about not getting a Mulligan!


  3. I actually find it shocking that Bush was allowed so many mistakes before the American people said “enough.” Either we are way too forgiving of our leaders, or he was masterful at playing the wayward lad who promised to “do better next time.” If we had only allowed him one mistake, he would never have been re-elected.


  4. I think it depends on whether or not the president in question can recover from a perceived failure. Lincoln faced a strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike in 1864, until Grant and Sherman scored important military victories. Had Atlanta not fallen by election day, we’d likely be talking about George Brinton McLellan as our 17th president.


  5. Historiann–I loved your sly reference to the punch-bowl-drinking ladies of your recent post/discussion about the eighteenth-century engraving! Nice one.


  6. Thanks, Tom–although I enjoy the earthiness of the expression “turd in the punchbowl” regardless of the sly political history context.

    Harry Truman is a good example of a President who was unpopular at the time but whose reputation has improved in history–thanks, Mary. He may be one of the only ones. Lincoln was lucky I suppose in that the war turned around in time for his re-election, but then, it’s not like he was handed a nation enjoying peace and prosperity.

    That’s one of the reasons I rank Bush as #1 Worst President Ever, and Adams I as #2. Unlike the other contenders–Hoover or Buchanan–things were pretty good when they took office, and it was their perfidy and/or incompetence that drove the country into the ditch.


  7. Pingback: Daughters and political dynasties : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  8. Pingback: Rabbit, ran out : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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