What exactly made George W. Bush such a terrible president? His unwavering commitment to his principles, Alan Brinkley argues in the New Republic. Most Americans favor idealists over realists, in theory, so the criticism might seem strange. But the presidents we remember for their lofty goals and convictions—such as Lincoln and FDR—were also highly skillful politicians, masters of the half-measure and compromise.
Bush resembles another of history’s heels, Herbert Hoover, who stayed the free-market course during the Depression until the country was almost ruined. Bush went one step further than Hoover, however, in building an administration that protected him from challenges from the other branches—and protected him from making compromises. Americans would do well, Brinkley concludes, to embrace pragmatism in their leaders from now on.