The Verdict Is in: Guess Who's the Worst President in US History?
Note from the Author: This article was written before Donald Trump became president. At his current pace, Trump could very possibly set the standard for most awful president in history (not to mention most vulgar, most obnoxious, most childish, most petty, most self-pitying, etc). Please check back from time to time as Trump establishes a new benchmark for measuring how terrible a president can be.
Americans of all stripes love to debate which president was best or worst. This is a subject that is too important to rely on opinion polls, which are skewed by individual bias and political views. While It's difficult to rate how good or bad any president may have been in comparison to another, a careful look at the facts shows one president failed in virtually every aspect of the job to a degree unrivaled by any other.
When you review the facts below and consider his impact on our economy, foreign policy, and domestic policy, by almost any standard, it’s difficult to find any president who did more harm and left the country in worse shape than George W. Bush.
At the same time that Bush was leaving office with a 28% job approval rating, 61% of historians rated George W. Bush's presidency as the worst in history. In another, informal survey of 109 professional historians, 98.2% judged the Bush presidency as a failure while a mere 1.8% classified it as a success.
Below you can find all the reasons that George Bush deserves the title of Worst President in US History. I encourage you to do your own research and verify the facts stated in this article.
1. Bush Turned a Budget Surplus into the Largest Deficit in US History
Although he was the first president in decades to inherit a budget surplus, George W. Bush wasted no time in wiping out that surplus, turning it into the biggest budget deficit in history. By the time he left office, the deficit exceeded $1 trillion dollars per year. He added more to the national debt than every president before him combined.
Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy were supposed to stimulate the economy and reduce the deficit. However, just the opposite happened. the economy collapsed and the deficit grew bigger with every tax cut. Check out this report from the Congressional Budget Office, which provides Congress with non-partisan analysis on budgetary on spending issues, showing the budget deficits and surpluses.
2. The Worst Job Creation Record Since Herbert Hoover
When George W. Bush was sworn in as president, he inherited an unemployment rate of just 4%. By the time he left office, unemployment was skyrocketing and the economy was shedding 750,000 jobs in a single month.
Bush's reliance on tax cuts for the wealthy to stimulate the economy and create jobs was a dismal failure.
Looking at the jobs created during each presidential administration, you would have to go all the way back to Herbert Hoover to find a president with a worse record of job creation than George W. Bush.
Jimmy Carter, who is often ridiculed by Republicans, oversaw the creation of ten million new jobs during his 4 years in office compared to less than 2 million net jobs during Bush’s 8 years in office.
3. Bush Plundered Social Security, Breaking a Campaign Promise
While running for president, George W. Bush promised not to touch the Social Security trust fund. Yet barely six months after taking office he broke this promise and began siphoning money from Social Security to make up for the budget shortfall.
After taking hundreds of billions from the trust fund, he then said Social Security was broke and attempted to privatize it - an attempt that thankfully failed.
4. Bush Squandered the Clinton Economic Boom
Here is what President Bush inherited from President Clinton when he came to office:
- 4% unemployment,
- A $200 billion budget surplus,
- A stock market that had tripled in value over the previous 8 years,
- The best rate of job creation in history (22 million new jobs in 8 years).
Bush brought all that prosperity to a screeching halt. By the time he left office we had:
- Unemployment heading toward 10%,
- A trillion dollar budget deficit,
- A crash of the financial system,
- The worst rate of job creation since Herbert Hoover.
Census Bureau statistics showed that the nation’s poverty rate, which dropped every year during the Clinton presidency, rose by more than a million people per year for six of Bush’s eight years in office.
5. Bush Gave Us the Worst Economic Crisis since the “Great Depression"
While the economy always has ups and downs, it is exceedingly rare for a president to preside over two economic recessions during their term in office. The economic collapse of 2008 was the worst since the Great Depression and required taxpayers to spend nearly a trillion dollars to bail out the financial industry. In fact, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke claims that the economic collapse of 2008 was actually worse than the Great Depression in some respects. By the time Bush left office, economists were predicting 20% unemployment within a few months.
6. Bush Ignored Repeated Warnings About Terrorist Attacks Before 9/11
According to NSA adviser for counter-terrorism, Richard Clark, President Bush was uninterested in the many briefings he received from the CIA and NSA about likely terrorist attacks being planned against the US prior to 9/11.
Richard Clark and CIA director George Tenet believed the system was “blinking red” with warnings of impending terrorist attacks and tried to express this urgency to the president.
On August 6, 2001, President Bush received a CIA briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack the U.S.” which referenced the World Trade Center and discussed terrorist plans to hijack U.S. airplanes with New York City as a possible target.
In the weeks after receiving that CIA briefing, Bush spent a month fly-fishing, golfing, and clearing brush at his ranch in Texas. Barely a month after that warning, the US experienced the worst terrorist attack in history.
7. Bush Missed Many Opportunities to Fight or Prevent Terrorism
In February, 2001, after President Bush rejected proposals from the National Commission on Terrorism to create a Homeland Security agency, commission member Paul Bremer (later Bush’s administrator in Iraq), said "The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it.”
In 2002, Bush’s National Security Adviser for counter-terrorism, Randy Beers, complained that Bush refused to go after al Qaeda and was holding back troops and resources from Afghanistan to prepare for the war they were planning in Iraq. Beers later quit the Bush administration out of frustration with Bush’s lack of interest in destroying al Qaeda
8. Bush Failed to Protect New Yorkers from Toxins After the 9/11 WTC Collapse
After the World Trade Center collapsed, the EPA had information indicating that there were dangerously high levels of toxic substances like asbestos in the air. But the Bush administration pressured the EPA to issue a statement saying the air in and around ground zero was safe to breathe and encouraged New Yorkers to return to work. In fact, the level of toxic chemicals was many times higher than what the EPA considers safe.
9. Bush Used False Evidence to Justify The Iraq War
Leading up to the Iraq war, President Bush used questionable information from dubious sources to convince Congress and the American people that we needed to go to war in Iraq. He claimed in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from the country of Niger even though the CIA concluded that it was untrue.
Bush later claimed that Iraq acquired aluminum tubes which could only be used for building nuclear weapons. But U.S. intelligence confirmed before the war that the tubes had nothing to do with any nuclear program.
He rejected information from his own weapons inspectors that he sent into Iraq who told him that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program.
He also claimed there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda even though the CIA and NSA said there was no such connection.
10. Bush Started the Two Longest Wars in US History
After initially overthrowing the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Bush withheld troops and resources from that war to prepare for the war in Iraq. This allowed the Taliban to retake large portions of Afghanistan within two years.
The Iraq war was arguably the single biggest foreign policy blunder in US history. After sending hundreds of thousands of Americans off to war with the promise of a quick victory, these wars dragged on for years costing thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars. The overthrow of Iraq led to the creation of several Islamic militant groups and a lengthy civil war that completely destabilized the entire Middle East region.
The most direct result of the war was an increase in worldwide terrorism.
11. Bush and Cheney allowed war profiteers like Halliburton to make billions on the war.
After the invasion of Iraq, Halliburton, which had given Dick Cheney a $40 million severance package, received a huge contract to run the Iraqi oil fields without having to bid against any competitors.
Halliburton made at least $39 billion over the course of the Iraq war and overcharged the government tens of millions of dollars. Cheney’s stock options in Halliburton earned him millions of dollars after he became vice president.
See the Timeline of Bush's Response to Katrina
12. Bush Was Painfully Slow in Responding to Hurricane Katrina
While thousands died and tens of thousands were struggling to survive due to the flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, President Bush continued with his planned vacation schedule.
After the levees broke and New Orleans flooded, Bush sprang into action by flying to Arizona where he gave a birthday cake to Sen. John McCain and promoted his Medicare Drug program. That evening Bush received another request from Louisiana Gov. Blanco for more help. She did not get a reply.
While thousands of stranded people in New Orleans were still waiting in vain to be rescued, President Bush flew to San Diego to give a speech about Iraq. Later he played guitar with a country singer before returning to his ranch in Texas.
On the third day Bush returned to Washington where he was photographed looking out the window of Air Force One at the devastation below.
13. Bush Frequently Violated the U.S. Constitution
- He violated the 4th Amendment when he authorized the NSA to illegally wiretap American citizens’ phones without a warrant.
- He further violated the Constitution when he managed to get a provision into the Patriot Act giving him sole authority to imprison people indefinitely without due process of law.
- He violated the 8th Amendment (in addition to US laws and international treaties) by authorizing the torture of detainees who had not even been charged with any crime (not to mention that torture is the most ineffective and unreliable method of getting information).
14. Bush Was a Health & Environmental Catastrophe
George W. Bush broke his campaign promise to enact stricter emissions standards for carbon dioxide, relaxing standards that enabled polluters to put more toxins such as mercury into our atmosphere. He relaxed clean water standards to allow higher levels of arsenic and mercury in our drinking water, and weakened workplace health and safety standards to benefit big corporations.
In 2003, Bush gutted the Clean Air Act so that energy companies could substantially increase the amount of pollution generated by older energy generating plants.
15. Bush Misled Congress About the Costs of Medicare Part D
In 2003, Congressional leaders refused to support the Medicare Prescription Drug bill if it exceeded $400 billion. So President Bush told them it would cost exactly $400 billion. We now know that Bush was aware that the actual cost would be over $550 billion (cost estimates eventually reached $1.2 trillion). Medicare official Richard Foster was even threatened with termination of his job if he revealed the true cost of the bill to Congress.
Ironically, the same Republicans in Congress who voted for the Medicare Prescription expansion which added over a trillion dollars to our debt, voted against Obamacare which actually reduces the deficit.
16. Bush Lowered America’s World Standing
Most of America’s traditional allies condemned the invasion of Iraq and the use of torture on detainees. The Iraq war inspired unprecedented hatred for America in much of the world. Even US allies like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarik said the Iraq war “will create a hundred more Osama bin Ladens”.
In 2004, former Air Force chief of staff, General Tony McPeak said President Bush had "alienated our friends, damaged our credibility around the world, reduced our influence to an all-time low in my lifetime and given hope to our enemies."
After leaving office, President Bush even had to cancel a trip to Switzerland due to large-scale protests calling for him to be arrested.
Any of Those Reasons Would Have Justified Impeachment
And we haven’t even mentioned doubling the price of gasoline, exploiting 9/11 for political gain, setting the record for most time spent on vacation, cutting veterans benefits, suppressing scientific findings about global warming, flying in hecklers to disrupt the 2001 recount in Florida, refusing to testify under oath before the 9/11 commission, outing a covert CIA agent for political reasons and leaving office with a 30% job approval rating.
Yes, Other Presidents Have Had Failures
James Polk started the Mexican-American War under false pretenses. Many historians blame President James Buchanan’s weak leadership for the Civil War, leading some to consider him the worst president in history. Herbert Hoover presided over the economic crash of the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War. Nixon and Reagan had more people in their administrations convicted of serious crimes than any other presidents.
Yet none of these men, not even Buchanan, failed so thoroughly at so many different aspects of their job as George W. Bush
There's Only One Inescapable Conclusion
We are all influenced by our own political bias, including this author. But setting political opinions aside and just looking at the facts, it's hard to imagine any other American president who inherited a better overall national and international situation while leaving the country in more dismal shape than George W. Bush.
Who is the Worst?
Which of these do you think is the worst president in the past 50 years?
Before you leave any comments, read this note.
This article was not intended to be a detailed analysis of all US presidents to determine who was the worst among them.
This article is an explanation of why the author believes George W. Bush to be the worst president in history. It mentions some other presidents who are often regarded as having done a poor job, but it was written specifically for the purpose of discussing the George W. Bush presidency.
The opinion poll at the end of the article exists primarily for the purpose of measuring the reader’s views, but it is not by any means a scientific poll of a cross section of the American people and it has nothing to do with the content of the article.