I HAVE SAID here George Bush might be another Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson: presidents who took the country to protracted wars without declarations of war, became unpopular and had to retire rather than seek re-election.
Others deride the president as "George Herbert Hoover Bush." They predict a bad recession and say Bush in 1992 will pay the price for the Roaring Eighties the way Hoover in 1932 paid the price for the Roaring Twenties.
Bert Lance, Jimmy Carter's budget director, describes today's scene this way:
"Hostages held by a mad man ruler in the Middle east; runaway oil prices; high interest rates; a budget deficit that generates more complaints than the weather and as much effectiveness in doing something about it. All that plus a president who is campaigning hard against Washington 'insiders' while his approval ratings in the polls drop faster than the Dow Jones average. The similarities [between Bush and Carter in 1979-80] are haunting."
Author John B. Judis sees still another president in George Bush. He compares Bush's call for "a new world order" based on collective security to Woodrow Wilson's call in 1915 for a League of Nations to act collectively to avoid wars. Wilson, a Democrat, ran into opposition in the Senate, led by a prominent Republican, and the U.S. never entered the League of Nations. Many Republicans as well as Democrats now oppose Bush's Middle East policy and international ideas. Judis says that "Mr. Bush's proposal, like Mr. Wilson's, may become another faded dream." He implies he really means "will become" not "may become."
Journalist-scholar Burton Yale Pines says "the shadow of William Howard is falling across the presidency of George Bush." Whoa! That's some shadow! Taft, president from 1909-1913, weighed 332 pounds!
Pines says Bush, Reagan's hand-picked successor, is alienating conservative Reagan Republicans the way Taft, Roosevelt's hand-picked successor, alienated progressive Roosevelt Republicans. He recalls that Taft went back on a tariff pledge the way Bush went back on a tax pledge. He says conservatives may have to "bolt the party" in 1992 the way progressives did in 1912. They had Teddy Roosevelt to lead them. He was still a vigorous 54 when he ran as a third party candidate in 1912, splitting the Republican vote and allowing Wilson to win the White House.
At 81, Ronald Reagan may be up to it, but the Constitution now forbids third terms.
Not every historical comparison is bad news for Bush. Princeton professor Fred Greenstein says the showdown in the Persian Gulf is sort of a "slow motion Cuban missile crisis," referring to John Kennedy's forcing (with military power and secret negotiation) the Soviet Union to take weapons out of Cuba.
Kennedy became immensely popular after that and no doubt would have won a second term with ease.