Yesterday, I compared the election of Barack Obama to a movie, saying that the inauguration -- after such a long election campaign -- seems like the time the credits would roll. But, of course, that long campaign was just the opening credits. This movie is just beginning.
The last movie to play in this theater has just wrapped up and the reviews are coming in. Not surprisingly, they aren't very good. As movies go, this Bush flick was a dog.
Editorials worldwide say Bush was a "failure," "worst president ever," and "a buffoon and a warmonger." His two terms were marked by a "singular lack of curiosity in international matters," "a 'friend-or-foe' mentality," and a "web of manipulation has cost America $900 billion and the lives of 4,000 soldiers -- along with at least 500,000 Iraqis."
This movie really, really blew.
President Bush leaves the White House the least respected of any president that we know of. A CBS News/NY Times poll finds that his final approval rating is 22%, with 73% disapproving. "Mr. Bush's final approval rating is the lowest final rating for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking about presidential approval more than 70 years ago," we're told.
Contrasted with Bush's numbers are Barack Obama's. Today, 79% are optimistic about Obama. A stunning 83% approve of his transition. None of this should come as a surprise; just turn on your TV. The flag and banner waving in Washington looks like the celebrations after a successful revolution. It reminds me of the Berlin Wall coming down.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com compares these numbers with other inaugural numbers:
The two highest initial, post-inauguration approval ratings as measured by Gallup belong to presidents who took over for others whose terms ended prematurely. About 86 percent of Americans approved of Harry Truman when he took over for FDR. And 77 percent approved Lyndon Johnson when he took over for JFK. The highest initial approval rating for a newly elected president, on the other hand, appears to belong to Kennedy, whom Gallup pegged at 72 percent approval shortly after his inauguration in 1961.
No one's died here, so the safe bet is that Barack Obama is the new John F. Kennedy in terms of popularity. It's a comparison that's been made often enough. But Bush himself holds the record for highest approval rating a 90% rating in a show of solidarity after 9/11. In the wake of disaster, everyone was ready for leadership. In Bush's case, we didn't get it.
My take on these numbers is that George W. Bush is the disaster Barack Obama is benefitting from. Something terrible has happened to our nation and we look to Obama to lead us in picking up the pieces. When you're going down in quicksand, you tend to have a good opinion of the guy with the rope.
As a result, I'm less concerned with Bush's attempt to rewrite history in his favor than I have been. Columnist Leonard Pitts jr. writes, "It occurs to me that, as patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so history is the last refuge of the failed president." Try as he might, history will remember Bush exactly as he is -- a trainwreck of a presidency. Attempts at historical revisionism are doomed to fail.
It hasn't happened yet as I write, but the odds are that as you read this, a new president will have been sworn in. Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States of America. To 43, we'll have said a less than fond farewell. The worst president ever ends his movie not by riding off into the sunset, but by slinking off into the shadows, where he'll spend the rest of his life in a bootless effort to convince everyone that his movie wasn't as bad as all the reviewers said it was.
Yeah, good luck with that.