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Ron Radosh

Bush’s Legacy in History and the Press

January 19th, 2009 - 2:32 pm

As George W. Bush leaves office, more articles have been appearing on the issue of his legacy. Journalism, of course, is known as the first draft of history, and the consensus has been offered: Bush was the worst President in American history. This assessment began a few years ago, when he was less than half through his second term, and was begun by Princeton University’s eminent historian, Sean Wilentz, who wrote two different cover stories for Rolling Stone arguing his case.

Most recently, Time columnist Joe Klein, in a particularly nasty and vitriolic article, argued that torture and related “war crimes” is “the real Bush legacy.”  As Klein sees it, the treatment of enemy prisoners in wartime- those of al-Qaeda and the Taliban-was not only “callous and despicable,” but “stands at the heart of the national embarrassment that was his residency.”Klein is perhaps the strongest example of a partisan journalist whose left- leaning bias color his ability to objectively evaluate the record of the outgoing administration.

In an evaluation from the other side, Jay Lefkowitz, writing in Commentary, shows that  Bush, “despite the absence of any tangible political benefit to himself or his party,” created the most effective and expensive American project to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, and that he did so “at the risk of a costly break with one of his core constituencies.” Lefkowitz provides the details in his article.  But unlike Klein, he says it will be years or decades before any consensus can emerge about the Bush presidency.

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