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Where Does Bush Rank?

The Washington Post's Outlook section this week devotes considerable space to famous historians' assessments of where Bush will place on the list of our country's greatest presidents. Unsurprisingly, the consensus is that Bush 43 will rank, well, close to 43rd. In his sensible conclusion that the current president is really, really bad, but not as awful as Nixon, David Greenberg lists some of Nixon's sins:

While Nixon had his diehard defenders, something close to a national consensus emerged over the idea that his crimes were unprecedented and required his removal from office.

No such consensus exists for a Bush impeachment. On the contrary, in this fall's election campaign, Democrats pointedly quashed any talk of seeking his ouster if they were to win control of Congress. One can argue that Bush's sanctioning of illegal wiretapping by the National Security Agency constitutes an impeachable offense.

Either way, judgments about the impeachability of Bush for such offenses are far less clear than those rendered in 1974 about Nixon's law-breaking. Many presidents skirt the edges of unconstitutionality. Only Nixon transgressed it so blatantly that impeachment became, to use a Bush-era phrase, a slam dunk.

Watergate was bad, to be sure, but historians have a tendency to ascribe more significance to things like electoral corruption than to other much more consequential actions. By what measure was that "third-rate" burglary, for instance, nearly as bad as, say, bombing Cambodia? Or giving the green light to Pakistan in their slaughter of thousands of Bangladeshis? I understand that it's easier to impeach presidents for blatantly illegal actions than disputed and confusing wars, but, with hindsight, shouldn't we be judging our chief executives by their most consequential actions? --Isaac Chotiner