Where George W. Bush will land on any future historian’s list of presidential ranking is anyone’s guess. Since academia is 85 to 90 percent Democrat, and since Democrats have an intense hatred of Bush, it stands to reason he will not fair very well among university professors. Yet Bush has angered a good many true conservatives as well, so he is unlikely to find any relief from that group either.
President Bush may take a literary beating for what could very well turn out to be a serious economic downturn, for a policy of fiscal irresponsibility, and a possible quagmire in Iraq but one area he should not take too serious of a hit would be his handling of internal security, in which he has taken a delicate approach with new laws to go after our enemies and prevented any further attacks on the American homeland.
Though his actions in regard to war policy and civil liberties has been quite tame, historically-speaking, Bush has made many true conservatives, myself included, nervous to say the least. The serious concern for civil libertarians is this: what happens when a true tyrant takes office with laws the Bush administration enacted and chooses not to use caution but to use the laws for political advantage and go after its enemies? Such laws, if absolutely necessary, should always include a “sunset” provision and never be made permanent, as Congress has done with the USA PATRIOT Act. This was a monumental mistake.
The rights and freedoms of American citizens should never be under threat during wartime or peacetime and the federal government, regardless of who holds the White House, should maintain a constant vigil over them.
But how does Bush compare with Abraham Lincoln, another wartime president with an internal security problem? Liberals, as well as many moderates and conservatives, praise Lincoln for saving the Union and freeing the slaves, while ignoring his often-times brutal methods. But those same “scholars” bash Bush for violating the civil liberties of the American people during a war with a dangerous and elusive enemy who uses our free society to operate among us, planning new and more deadly attacks on the homeland.
In short, no president violated the Constitution and trampled the civil liberties of the American people more than Abraham Lincoln. So let us look briefly at a comparison of the two wartime presidents.
Bush gained authorization from Congress to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the appropriations to carry out the war. Lincoln raised an army and waged war without congressional consent, refusing to call Congress into session until the conflict has been ongoing for several months.
Bush ordered warrant-less wire taps on overseas calls to suspected Al-Qaeda operatives who might be planning terrorist strikes in the United States, which were approved by Congress. Lincoln seized and censored Northern telegraph offices unilaterally. This would be akin to Bush taking over AT&T and listening to every call made each and every day throughout the country without any warrants, congressional approval or oversight, or any court participation.
The president has not laid a finger on the media but he does oppose a new “shield law,” recommended by some in Congress to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources for stories, because just such a law would make it more difficult for the government to catch “leakers.” Lincoln, by contrast, censored and shut down hundreds of newspapers throughout the North critical of his policies. Just imagine for a second Bush sending in troops to take over the New York Times! This very thing Lincoln did on more than one occasion. A few editors were even arrested and imprisoned.
Bush detains enemy combatants, those persons fighting against American forces on foreign battlefields, and houses them in a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are treated better than they lived at home, even though they are not protected by the Geneva Convention. Lincoln arrested and imprisoned, without trial, some 14,000 American citizens, according to historian Mark Neely, many of whom simply disagreed with the administration and became critical of war policy. He even had a former congressman, Clement Vallandingham, arrested by Union troops in the dead of night and banished to the Confederacy. Vallandingham was in the midst of a campaign for governor of Ohio in which he was relentless in both his criticism of Lincoln and in his desire to end the war. President Lincoln was able to carry out these actions by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which the president is not allowed to do under the Constitution. Anyone advocating peace was considered an enemy and Lincoln would not tolerate it. Cindy Sheehan would never have been heard from again!
President Bush did not use the military to disrupt the electoral process and assure his re-election in 2004. Lincoln used Union troops to intimidate Democrats from going to the polls in 1864, and with hostile newspapers silenced, he won a second term, but still with only 55 percent of the vote. In 1861 he ordered secessionist-leaning members of the Maryland state legislature seized by military force to prevent that state from joining the Confederacy. In addition he interfered with Maryland’s electoral process to make sure new legislators were in lock-step with preserving the Union. Self-determination was all but destroyed in the state of Maryland by President Lincoln.
Bush has made no attempt to interfere with the federal court system, even when rulings, such as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, did not completely go his way. He has not even invoked the Andrew Jackson policy of ignoring the Supreme Court. Lincoln not only ignored the Court but even threatened to have Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney arrested for issuing an opinion where he admonished the president for overstepping his constitutional authority in suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Despite liberal efforts to suppress this story, according to Lincoln critic Professor Thomas DiLorenzo’s excellent research in his book Lincoln Unmasked, there was, in fact, an arrest warrant issued by the president intended for the chief justice but never carried out by law enforcement.
The Pentagon has been extremely careful, even to the detriment of our own troops, to keep civilian casualties as low as possible. No specific actions have ever been taken against civilians in any theater of operations, despite the rantings of Murtha and others. But our troops have faced trial for acting in self-defense in a war zone, as in the Haditha case, and some have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for putting underwear on the heads of detainees in Iraq. Mr. Lincoln’s army faced no court martial and acted without regard to any established rules of war. War crimes specifically directed against Southern civilians were commonplace throughout the conflict, as has been well documented, including Sherman’s brutal march through Georgia and South Carolina and Sheridan’s complete destruction of the Shenandoah Valley, a campaign in which he boasted that a crow flying over the area would be forced to carry rations!
By contrast it must be noted that Confederate armies operating in the North were forbidden by President Jefferson Davis, as well as General Robert E. Lee, from retaliating against the Northern people. Many Southern soldiers who committed war crimes were hanged.
Bush has received perhaps his harshest criticism over the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which even John McCain vows to close. Yet Gitmo has provided for prisoners better than they deserve, with free prayer rugs, copies of the Koran, and five prayer sessions a day as required by Islam. And the meal menu looks like something out of Tavern-on-the-Green.
Lincoln, however, treated Confederate prisoners of war in the most merciless fashion. The North had ample supplies throughout the war but made no effort care for Confederate soldiers. One notorious Northern prison was located in Elmira, New York. It was so bad that Southern troops housed there referred to it as “Hellmira.” Many froze to death without so much as a blanket in the cold winter months, as others suffered from disease and malnutrition. Nearly 3,000 died at Elmira, a rate of 25 percent.
The infamous prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia receives all the attention, mainly because the Confederacy lost the war and we all know winners write the history, but how could the South possibly be expected to feed enemy soldiers when they were having trouble feeding their own troops as well as their own civilian population. And don’t forget Mr. Lincoln instituted an illegal blockage against Southern ports to help starve the Confederacy.
The fact is once a system of prisoner exchange was worked out by both sides in 1862 most of the early prisons were emptied and remained so for two years. However, that system was ended in 1864 by General Grant to deprive the Confederacy of much-needed troops as he instituted a new campaign to strangle the South. Yet this is almost never pointed out. In Ken Burns propaganda piece about the war he blames the ending of the prisoner exchange plan on President Davis and General Lee because of racism for supposedly refusing to exchange Union black troops in Southern custody, preferring to send them back into slavery. An outrageously untrue claim!
So as you can see, Bush’s policies, though troubling, do not begin to compare with Lincoln, a man who is nearly worshipped by most politicians, Democrat and Republican, and almost all of academia. Whatever his faults, President Bush has maintained a watch over the liberties of the American people and is not the tyrant in which he is often portrayed by the Left. The most distressing Bush policy would be the permanency of new security laws, which should be repealed. But the next time you feel compelled to trash Bush for being the worst tyrant in American history, or hear a member of the Left doing so, think of “Honest” Abe. There’s no comparison at all.