Victor Davis Hanson

We are in one of the longest presidential campaigns in modern memory -- and haven't even started focusing on the general election.

It's been enough to drive most of us mad, but if there's one person in particular suffering the most, it may be President Bush.

It's been noted here before that we have not had an election since 1952 in which an incumbent president or vice president was not running in at least partial defense of an existing administration's record.

That means Bush is not just a lame duck but an easy target for all three current candidates -- none of whom have any investment in the president’s legacy.

Consider that the last president in a similar position was Harry Truman. He left office with an approval rating in the 20s, and it took years before historians revised the standard negative and mostly unfair view of him.

When there is no incumbent in a long race, almost everything of the last four years becomes fair and uncontested game. In 2004, Bush defended his record for months on the stump; now it has become almost second nature for all three candidates to denounce it daily.

John McCain has distanced himself from Bush as much as he can, even as his Democratic opponents dub him John McBush -- when they are not outdoing each other in their denunciation of the president.

Last week, I asked a fierce Bush critic what he thought were the current unemployment rate, the mortgage default rate, the latest economic growth figures, interest rates and the status of the stock market.

He blurted out the common campaign pessimism: "Recession! Worst since the Depression!"

Then he scoffed when I suggested that the answer was really a 5 percent joblessness rate in April that was lower than the March figure; 95 to 96 percent of mortgages not entering foreclosure in this year’s first quarter; .6 percent growth during the quarter (weak, but not recession level); historically low interest rates; and sky-high stock market prices.

There are serious problems -- high fuel costs, rising food prices, staggering foreign debt, unfunded entitlements and annual deficits. Yet a president or vice president running for office (and covered incessantly by the media) would at least make the argument that there is a lot of good news, and that the bad that offsets it could be shared by a lot of culpable parties, from the Congress to the way we, the public, have been doing business for the last 20 years.

Bush, like Truman, will have to leave his final assessment for posterity. But for a variety of historic reasons as well as his own self-interest, Bush should at least take his now-unpopular case to the people, with more press conferences, public addresses, stump speeches and one-on-one interviews.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.