Until We Have a Playoff System, Bush Is Stuck at No. 36

By  Al Kamen
Thursday, February 19, 2009

George W. Bush has long maintained that history will vindicate his administration, despite liberals' insistence that he has a permanent lock on the title "worst ever."

A C-SPAN poll of 65 historians and observers of the presidency this week may give Bush some reason for optimism, even though he was ranked 36th on the list, meaning seventh-worst president. For one thing, he starts well ahead of the likes of James Buchanan -- who retained the worst-ever title, coming in at 42nd. Bush ran far in front of luminaries such as Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, William Henry Harrison (give the guy a break -- he died after a month in office!), Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson.

There was little movement among the usual crowd in the top tier, led by Abraham Lincoln. Ronald Reagan, who placed 11th in 2000, moved up to 10th, switching places with Lyndon B. Johnson.

The good news for Bush is that, as is often the case, the poll shows a clear tendency for upward -- and occasionally downward -- movement as time passes. For example, Bill Clinton was ranked 21st when he left office but has zipped up to 15th and is only a couple of points out of the 12th spot. Jimmy Carter, however, dropped three spots, to 25th.

Bush has a steep climb, and the economic collapse -- Herbert Hoover is holding steady at 34th on the list -- might be a drag on upward movement, but you never know. In addition, there seems to be some volatility in the middle ranks. Ulysses S. Grant soared in the new survey, from 33rd up to 23rd. And Rutherford B. Hayes, never one to garner great acclaim, dropped from 26th to 33rd. Unclear what he might have done recently to deserve that.

Leaving Langley

CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, a veteran of 37 years in the intelligence community, including seven in his current job, said yesterday that he would have liked to serve in the Obama administration but "it is time for a change." Helgerson, in a note to the staff, said he will retire from the federal government in 30 days.

The move presents the Obama administration with a critical vacancy in an agency that has been rocked by turmoil and sharp criticism in recent years -- including several critical reports by Helgerson. At one point, things had gotten so contentious internally that then-Director Michael V. Hayden reportedly was conducting an investigation of his own investigator, something that would obviously have undercut Helgerson probes. There was speculation that Hayden had been trying to force Helgerson out, but Helgerson stayed on until the new crowd showed up.

Now, however, observers are going to be watching the new director, Leon Panetta, and President Obama to see whether Helgerson's successor will be a junkyard dog or a company man.

We Can Vouch

Talk about change. There's talk that Phillip Carter, who used to write the popular Intel Dump blog for The Washington Post's Web site, is penciled in to be named deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, overseeing such places as the Guantanamo Bay and Bagram detention facilities.

Carter, a lawyer in New York, was on active and reserve duty for nine years in the U.S. Army as a military police and civil affairs officer. From October 2005 to September 2006, he was an embedded adviser with the Iraqi police in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province. He has also written friend-of-the-court briefs in Supreme Court cases on administration policies, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which struck down the Bush administration's military commissions for trying detainees at Guantanamo. Carter also worked on Vets for Obama during the campaign.

We'll Pass on This One

We have not previously written about Sen. John F. Kerry's congressional delegation to the Middle East, which left Friday. That's because, based on the information we have, we simply cannot recommend that Loop Fans sign up. It appears to be an exhausting seven-stop dash through the region that includes actual meetings with a group of oft-unpleasant world leaders. Apparently no fancy dinners in European capitals or day trips to ski villages on the itinerary.

Kerry (D-Mass.), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is stopping in Egypt; Jordan; Lebanon; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel; Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank; and Syria. Kerry is making the trip by his lonesome, save for a cadre of staffers.

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