George W. Bush has been branded the worst president in history and forced to endure accusations that he abused his power while presiding over a “lawless” administration. Stephen Knott, however, contends that Bush has been treated unfairly, especially by presidential historians and the media. He argues that from the beginning scholars abandoned any pretense at objectivity in their critiques and seemed unwilling to place Bush’s actions into a broader historical context.
In this provocative book, Knott offers a measured critique of the professoriate for its misuse of scholarship for partisan political purposes, a defense of the Hamiltonian perspective on the extent and use of executive power, and a rehabilitation of Bush’s reputation from a national security viewpoint. He argues that Bush’s conduct as chief executive was rooted in a tradition extending as far back as George Washington—not an “imperial presidency” but rather an activist one that energetically executed its constitutional prerogatives.
Given that one of the main indictments of Bush focuses on his alleged abuse of presidential war power, Knott takes on academic critics like Sean Wilentz and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and journalists like Charlie Savage to argue instead that Bush conducted the War on Terror in a manner faithful to the Framers’ intent—that in situations involving national security he rightly assumed powers that neither Congress nor the courts can properly restrain. Knott further challenges Bush’s detractors for having applied a relatively recent, revisionist understanding of the Constitution in arguing that Bush’s actions were out of bounds.
Ultimately, Knott makes a worthy case that, while Bush was not necessarily a great president, his national security policies were in keeping with the practices of America’s most revered presidents and, for that reason alone, he deserves a second look by those who have condemned him to the ash heap of history. All readers interested in the presidency and in American history writ large will find Rush to Judgment a deftly argued, perhaps deeply unsettling, yet balanced account of the Bush presidency—and a clarion call for a reexamination of how scholars determine presidential greatness and failure.