Daily Archives: December 6, 2005

Standing Up for Dubya, Such As It Is

People here know I am no big fan of George Bush, but you know, I try to be fair to the man. This is why I’m going to defend him from this:

James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history… he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason…

Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered — maybe they were all crazed liberals — making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan.

You know what, that’s just a slander on poor Dubya. Yes, he is an awful, awful president: an incompetent of the highest rank, a man of profoundly limited intellectual curiosity who is to the modern American conservative movement what Charles II of Spain was to the Hapsburgs. It’s always amusing to read conservative apologists for Bush, who wish the imbue the man with a sort of mystical deep thinking, such as as when they suggested that when Islamicist insurgents started flooding into Iraq that it was some rope-a-dope flypaper "master plan" rather than a consequence of the Bush administration having no strategy, or even an interest in a strategy, in Iraq once Saddam was hauled out of his rat hole. It ain’t happening, people. Bush has all the vision of an Amish buggy horse: If it ain’t directly in front of him, he’s not seeing it. And let’s not forget that an Amish buggy horse isn’t exactly the master of his own destiny.

For all that, he’s no James Buchanan. Perhaps the Civil War was inevitable — perhaps it was even necessary — but perhaps in both cases it was not, had there been a Chief Executive of the United States elected in 1856 whose entire plan for dealing with the sectarian issues rending the South from the rest of the nation had not been "well, let’s just try to ride this out and let it be the next guy’s problem." When he finally did become engaged on the issue, it was, as they say, far too little, far too late, and far too incompetently. Let’s just say a president whose initial response on South Carolina seceding was to say "They can’t do it, but I can’t stop them" is not a man who deserves the comfort of letting another of his executive brethren front the "worst president" line in his stead.

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008. There have been other presidents whose administrations have been bad, incompetent, malingering or some unholy combination of all three. But only one president is unforgivable, and that’s James Buchanan. They knew it at the time; during the Civil War they had to take down Buchanan’s picture in the capitol rotunda because they were afraid someone would deface it. The deaths of 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, accrue to his account. Dubya’s got a while before he gets there.

Again, this is not to minimize the badness of Dubya; he’s a bad president, all right, and if one wishes to front the proposition that he’s the least competent president since Buchanan, that’s a legitimate argument in my book. It indeed takes some doing to cut in the line in front of Grant, Harding, Hoover and Carter, but Bush has got the goods, such as they are (Nixon was competent, he was just paranoid to the point of endangering the office of the presidency; he’s bad, in a scary category all his own). But let’s keep things in perspective: When it comes to worst presidents, Buchanan’s the top, he’s the Eiffel Tower. He’s earned the title in perpetuity, or at least until a president comes along who actually and irreversably destroys the United States of America.

Bush isn’t that president, and no one derives benefit in suggesting he is. I mean, honestly, people. Being the worst president since Buchanan is bad enough.

Final Subterranean Magazine Submissions Post

Okay, all the acceptances and rejections for Subterranean Magazine’s "Big Honkin’ Science Fiction Cliche" Issue are now officially out. If you submitted a story and you haven’t gotten a rejection notice by, say, Wednesday (I’ve heard from all of those whose stories have been accepted), you can go ahead and e-mail me, at which point, uh, I guess I’ll tell you that I passed on your story. Sorry about that.

In happier news, I spent a part of the evening writing checks and sending people money through Paypal. Since most people got their acceptance notices on Saturday, this means the lag between acceptance and payment was two days for the people with PayPal accounts. This was because a) Subterranean Magazine publisher Bill Schafer was writer-savvy enough to get the editorial budget to me upfront, so there was no question as to whether the money was in the pipeline, and b) being a writer myself, I know that it’s nice to, you know, get paid. So generally speaking as soon as I know where the money’s going and how the author wants it to go, it’s out the door. Which is not to say I’m a complete hero; Elizabeth Bear was superawesome and got a story to me early (and it rules), and I’m only now mailing the damn check. Dear Bear: I suck. Please forgive me. Anyway, the check’s on the way now. I do have to say that there’s very little nicer in the world than being able to give money to people whose work you admire. Especially when it’s not your money.

The final line-up of stories is still pending while a few writers with extended deadlines tend to their stories and rewrites, but even with what we’ve got nailed down I think you folks are going to like what you see. There’s a good mix of stories and story styles, and also a nice mix in the ways writers approach their cliches, from flat-out farce to pure mysticism. And here’s something exciting: among the established names in the lineup I’m very pleased to say we have four writers making their publishing debut in Subterranean, with stories that are meditations on totalitarianism, tales of a Barsoom-esque Mars, a twisty Silicon Valley mystery, and a look at the human side of being a war machine. I’m not at all far removed from being a newbie SF writer (it hasn’t even been a year since Old Man’s War hit the stores, after all), so its an honor and a privilege to be able to hold open the door and sneak a few more people into the club. Hopefully they’ll remember me when they hit the big time, and will, like, spare me some change. Wow, didn’t you used to edit science fiction? Why yes, yes I did. Hey, are you going to eat that?

Also exciting: The story I got yesterday from Allen M. Steele, called "The Last Science Fiction Writer." Ooooh, I could tell you about it. But I’m not gonna. But I can tell you that if you knew what the story was like, you’d want me to tell you about it. Yes, I’m aware that makes no sense at all. But you know what I’m trying to say here, people. It’s good, and I think you’re going to like it. I think you’re going to like the whole issue.

In any event. When I lock down all the stories, you’ll get the full line-up. Until then, patience.