Was George W. Bush the worst president ever?

The Week
George W. Bush holds one of his last news conferences in January 2009.
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George W. Bush holds one of his last news conferences in January 2009.

According to historians and presidential scholars, he's certainly among the leading contenders

The dedication of the George W. Bush library gives loyalists of the former president a chance to highlight what they see as the positive legacy of his eight years in office.

But even among supporters there is a sense he'll never be given historical vindication.

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Former White House press secretary Ari Fleisher told NBC News: "I'm increasingly doubtful, just because I think the lens of history is not changing. A lot of us used to say President Bush will look good and he'll be vindicated in the public eye. But realistically speaking, I don't see a lot of the people who write history all of a sudden changing their mind about George W. Bush."

As Jill Lawrence points out, the polling of historians seems to back this up.

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Nearly 60 percent of the historians and political scientists in a 2006 Siena College survey rated Bush's presidency a failure and two-thirds said he did not have a realistic chance of improving his standing.

A 2010 Siena ranking of presidential scholars rated Bush as one of the nation's five worst presidents. A similar 2009 C-SPAN ranking put Bush in the bottom eight.

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It is certainly possible that years of reflection and a reinterpretation of his presidency could end up putting Bush in a more positive light, but there's no avoiding the reality that his decision to go to war in Iraq and policies of fiscal recklessness led to huge problems for the country. These are problems the country may still be reeling from as historians give Bush their second look.

Although Bush himself is giving a series of interviews for the first time in years for the opening of his presidential library, it's clear he has no real interest in visiting the past either.

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"I really don't miss Washington," Bush said, according to Politico, adding, "So while we've got friends in Washington I'm not all that friendly to Washington."

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