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Did I Really Once Think That George H.W. Bush Was the Worst President of My Lifetime?

A presidential derangement syndrome for all seasons

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The Simpsons

The weird thing about George H.W. Bush's term in the White House, looking back a quarter-century later, is that back then I thought he was the worst president of my lifetime. Bear in mind that I was born when Richard Nixon occupied the Oval Office, so worst president of my lifetime was a pretty high bar to clear. But I was in college in the Bush years, old enough to pay attention to what was happening in the world and young enough to lack perspective on just how bad things could get. There's a certain sort of apocalypticism that comes easily to you when you're 20 and you want to stop a war.

The conflict in question was the first Gulf War. I'm just as opposed to it now as I was then—more so, given what was set in motion by stationing U.S. troops on Saudi soil—and I stand by most of my other reasons for cursing H.W.'s time in power. I think he was wrong on issues ranging from drugs to taxes to the S&Ls, from the Iran-contra pardons to the invasion of Panama. But it soon became clear that he was far from the worst president I'd live to see. He wasn't even the worst one named Bush.

So here's to the times he moved in the right direction. Here's to keeping his head as the Communist bloc collapsed, and here's to overseeing an actual reduction in military spending after the Cold War ended. Here's to a relatively even-handed approach to the Palestinian conflict. Here's to easing up the saber-rattling in Nicaragua and letting a Central American–led peace process play out. None of those policies were perfect, but I can imagine how another leader in a similar situation could have done worse. In some cases, I don't have to imagine it.

And here's to demonstrating that you can win a war and still lose the next election. Though I don't think the lesson took.