Sometimes you just have to feel sorry for George W. Bush. With just under a week left in his eight-year term as United States President, Bush already has political muckrakers shoveling dirt onto his grave and declaring him the worst leader in the history of the country. The only problem is they're conducting the autopsy while the body is still alive.
This past week, outfielders Ricky Henderson and Jim Rice were elected to the baseball hall of fame after five and 19 years of retirement respectively. The baseball, basketball and football halls of fame require a candidate be retired for at least five years before they are eligible for induction, while the hockey hall has a three year waiting period. The purpose of this clause is simple: the bodies have deemed it impossible to judge a player's greatness without the benefit of hindsight.
The same should hold for political leaders. It's often impossible to properly judge the impact of a President's policies within their own lifetimes, let alone with a few days left in their term. Only now are the impacts of Cold War foreign and economic policies beginning to be felt around the rest of the world. While American assistance to the mujahedeen during the Afghanistan War was popular within certain circles at the time, as depicted in the film Charlie Wilson's War, its contributions to the 9/11 terror attacks have made it much less popular in retrospect.
It's the impact of Bush's policies that will have to be judged in the years to come, not how high his approval ratings were. Presidents who governed outside of the mass media era weren't judged with polls or approval ratings, but what their presidencies accomplished, and history should judge modern presidents in the same manner. A 2007 U.S. News project investigated the worst American presidents, ultimately concluding that they either supported slavery or were outright corrupt. Compared to the ineffectiveness of Zachary Taylor, the corruption of Warren G. Harding and the blind eye turned by James Buchanan to slavery, the bumbling George W. Bush doesn't seem that bad of a president.
Regardless of how much good they try to do, people will always find a reason to hate a political figure. Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, but was shot dead by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, who opposed plans to extend voting to freed slaves. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was branded a socialist and fascist by some for his consolidation of powers that facilitated the New Deal. Even George Washington, renowned by scholars and the public alike as perhaps the greatest president in history, was hated, albeit by the British.
George W. Bush has been president for eight years. While it's too early to tell if he was spectacular or merely a spectacular failure, a little bit of hindsight will allow the world to properly judge him.