03 Feb Post-mortem Analysis of the George W. Bush Presidency
To say that President Bush’s Presidency was a wild success for those in the conservative movement is, of course, patently absurd. But to say that his time in office was a universal failure is equally ignorant. The truth is that few Presidencies in American history are going to be remembered with as much mixed feeling as that of the Presidency which came to an end last Tuesday. The good and bad of it deserve highlighting.
President Bush’s time in office was far more damaging to conservatives than it was to Americans. The notion that President Bush has “ruined America’s standing in the world” is poppycock, and the vast majority of people who say it know so. But President Bush has done a huge disservice to conservatism, and it is largely one that he never even tried to do. He has enabled his unpopularity to be placed upon an ideology that he never much subscribed to to begin with. Conservatives lament the massive government spending that has taken place under Bush’s watch, and ironically, liberals do as well (I had one friend tell me that Bush would be castigated in history for the spending that took place under his watch, and then went on to praise Obama’s $1 trillion spending proposal). But in fairness to Bush, when did he ever campaign as anything different? Was his support of the prescription drug benefit a secret? Was “No Child Left Behind” a surprise? Going back to his gubernatorial days in Texas, this President has never claimed to be an economic libertarian. Now, I am one, and therefore judge Bush’s record in these matters very unfavorably, but to sit and listen to the hypocritical drivel from those in the center or on the left about Bush’s spending is too much to take. Can someone please tell me one of Bush’s spending proposals that the center and the left did not enthusiastically endorse? The answer is that there have been zero – none. Bush governed as he said he would govern – a moderate centrist with a certain appreciation for “compassionate conservatism”, which usually involved a big spending bill. I do not like it, but I am more than a bit irritated at most of the criticisms I see of it. The detractors seem to not have much credibility.
9/11 and Iraq will prove to be the defining parts of his Presidency. There is not going to be an American in fifty years who will be able to deny that on that day, in that period, we had the right man in office. President Bush’s handling of 9/11 was superb, and the vast majority of what he has done to keep American safe since has been superb. To even think about some squishy internationalist in the Oval Office after the worst attack in American history makes me ill. The Iraq legacy is going to be a more nuanced story. If, as I suspect, a democratic culture is allowed to flourish in Iraq in the coming decades, pursuing more of a market-economy and more modern conventions with which to govern their society, Iraq is going to be considered a success story. Many of the strategic blunders will never be forgiven, nor should they be, but the reality is that a certain degree of stability in the Middle East is going to exist that never existed before, and President Bush is going to deserve the credit for it. He will never be credited with properly making his case to the American people, but as Mark Steyn points out, “the President figured he could fight a long existential struggle against America’s enemies in a culture that teaches its children that there are no enemies, just friends whose grievances we haven’t yet accommodated.” Bush can hardly be blamed for the moral relativism of our age, but his stunning inability to sell this vital policy is surely as unimpressive as his resolve to win the war despite unfathomable opposition has been impressive. At some point in the middle of Bush’s second term, everyone – and I mean everyone – gave up on him. The amount of people in public circles who became “long time critics of the administrations in efforts in Iraq” some time around March of 2006 is extraordinary, especially when one “googles” these exact same cowards, and what they wrote about this effort in 2003 and 2004. Moral clarity does not mean changing your blog every time a new casualty takes place in Fallujah. and that is what President Bush was up against. Congress abandoned him almost as quickly as he abandoned his promises to reform social security. Yet, despite a war effort more unpopular than Vietnam, Bush did not sway, and the world is absolutely a better place for it. Some day, he will receive credit for that focus and determination. In the meantime, as Steyn says, “history will almost certainly make the case for Bush better than Bush himself did.”
As a Constitutionalist and a Federalist, I am grateful to the former President for the appointments of Justices Roberts and Alito. I am disappointed that he did not do more to push his federal appointments through. I think 2002-2005 will be remembered as the real failure of his eight-year reign, and not 2006-2008, where his approval levels were the lowest. The President wasted more political capital than any President in history during this time period, and this remarkable inefficiency should not be glanced over. America deserved a President of uncompromising ideology, and we got one as it pertained to matters of foreign policy. But domestically, I do not disagree with Bush’s economic philosophy as much as I simply have no idea what it was. Like his father, the best that can be said is that he did some good things with bad motives, and did some bad things with good motives. He seems to have surrounded himself with mostly mediocre Treasury heads, and suffered through such a high turnover of economic influences, that one can not make heads or tails of what his objectives were. Now, I probably prefer that to what we are about to get, which is a very clear economic philosophy that will never be accused of ambiguity. My hope is that when America formally enters the place that 70% of the people voting pay no income tax at all, but make 100% of the decisions for the people who are floating the entire national checkbook, that we can look back at Bush’s domestic legacy with disdain. Joining the left in their insidious migration towards Euro-style socialism is no way to win this battle (and Bush did not do such). But throwing a bunch of darts at a wall and calling it an “economic policy” is no way to win either. What it did is open the door for critics of market capitalism to say that market capitalism failed, when it fact what failed was no real market capitalism at all. I do not blame Bush for the subprime mess, but I do blame Bush for allowing himself to be labeled a part of the right wing capitalist movement. He was not, and his false association with us will do damage for a generation, I fear.
I still believe (and hope) that if and when another 9/11 takes place, President Obama will call Dick Cheney on his cell phone. I find Obama to be far too pragmatic a mind to think that one of the countless Clinton re-treads he has surrounded himself with will be adequate for such a crisis. It is going to take a while to sift through the cartoonish sensationalism about Obama “giving America hope again” and being “the second coming of FDR” (at least that one I pray will not be true). Once this guy has to get down and do something, his national media immunity will go away, and he will get on with the burden of governing. When President Bush governed with conviction and principle, he did so well, even if some of his few highlights sit among the most unpopular of lowlights in the national consensus. I can think of many men that I wish had been President the last eight years more than President Bush, but as an illustration of his mixed legacy, I can think of a couple names that cause me to be grateful for President Bush: Al Gore, and John Kerry.
May the next President in the White House with a Republican registration govern with a cogent and consistent economic philosophy, one that we are going to wish we had in the next eight years even more than we wish we had had in the last eight.