American Conditions – and Her Worst President Ever

Denmark’s highly-regarded national newspaper (one of them, actually), Berlingske Tidende, has apparently been running for some time a weblog that I only recently became aware of. Called Amerikanske Tilstande (= “American Conditions”), it is written by one Paul Høi, Berlingske’s USA correspondent currently resident in Santa Fe (NM, I presume), formerly of New York and Washington. (DC, I presume; oh, and there’s no reason to be intimidated by the pronunciation of that last name, especially if you happen to be a full-blooded, beer-drinking male type: “Høi Høi Høi!” is exactly what you surely have found yourself yelling out many times in the past, at a boisterous C&W bar near closing time, say, or while attending some football game.)

It’s an interesting blog to peruse, if you’ve got the Danish chops to do so, and I will surely assign it its own tag and discuss more entries coming from out of Amerikanske Tilstande in the future. The boilerplate text found to the right side of the entries themselves – below Høi’s picture – gives an economical picture of where he is coming from: he has, it says, “a fundamental love for America and Americans – even for their dodgy automobiles. He drives a Chevrolet Tahoe and burns up gasoline like a native” – i.e. massively, especially compared to usual Danish standards.

The blog-entry I’d like to use here to kick off what is sure to be a long, fruitful relation with Amerikanske Tilstande is entitled Verdens værste præsident?.You can probably make out for yourself what that bit of Danish means (“World’s Worst President?”) and who the column is about. And, by this point, you can also pretty well already guess Høi’s attitude on the matter. Just leave aside here for the moment both Høi’s “fundamental [American] love” and George W. Bush’s poll ratings among his American constituency, which are abysmal enough: within Europe (except, perhaps, Albania), the American president has long since descended into laughing-stock status – until he tries to, you know, actually pay a visit to one’s country, in which case it’s seriously time to take to the streets to make it clear how he is not welcome.

The thing is, Høi does go out of his way to try to be as even-handed on the question of just how historically bad a president George W. Bush has been as he can. First, he obligingly cites the man’s own words about his legacy, in fact quite literally. There’s a word-for-word translation into Danish of Bush’s halting, fractured, grammatically-challenged viewpoint on his legacy which must be quite amusing for true Danish readers, but which then Høi needs to immediately condense into something a bit more understandable to be sure they get the point: Let’s wait and see, maybe future historians will have a kinder opinion. Then Høi goes on to treat in some detail, as a counterexample, the case of Ronald Reagan: a middle-of-the-pack-quality president according to most historians immediately after he left office, but soon viewed in a considerably more admiring light shortly thereafter with the collapse of the Soviet Union’s Eastern European hegemony in 1989 and the falling apart of the Evil Empire itself two years later. Perhaps the same could happen with George Bush the Younger, Høi posits. It’s true that he has put forth a vision for the Middle East that sees it eventually blossoming into peace, freedom, and democracy – and, as Høi further points out, he has anteed-up 4,000 American lives (so far) to get things started. (Høi doesn’t even bother to mention the many $billions also expended in this alleged cause.) Maybe that, too, could shortly come to pass, so that historians would start looking upon George W. Bush’s legacy with rather more appreciative eyes?

Negative, Mr. Spock

Nah. No way. And not only does Høi come to this conclusion, so do 109 recently-polled American historians. Furthermore, he cites historian Robert McElvaine, the man behind the recent polling among American historians about George W. Bush’s legacy, as justifying such academics’ abilities to accurately judge: “Historians have a better possibility than others to evaluate a sitting president’s policies and acts in relation to his predecessors.”

What we and Paul Høi are left with as a conclusion, then, is the collection of recent quotes from those historians panning Bush’s presidential performance that you’ve surely already run across if you’ve been following the story. If they’ve slipped your mind, then go ahead and click on Høi’s weblog entry because there they are, in English: “He is easily one of the 10-worst of all time . . .” etc. The only niggling point left to explore is whether Bush is really the very worst – and Høi dutifully devotes a late paragraph to an examination of his desperate rivalry with James Buchanan (president as the Civil War began) to escape the list’s very bottom.

Only nine months and four days to go (as of when he wrote the column), Høi obligingly reminds us at its very end – but many of us are keeping track ourselves and are very well aware of that.

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