George W. Bush: A new look at his legacy

The dedication of the 43rd president’s library coincided with a surge in his popularity and a re-evaluation of his years in office.

“Former President George W. Bush is in the political wilderness no more,” said Fred Barnes in The 43rd president’s library and museum were dedicated last week, coinciding with a surge in popularity for the unfairly maligned former president. Bush now has a favorability rating of 47 percent—about the same as President Obama’s, and more than 20 points higher than when Bush left office. A re-evaluation of his legacy is “beginning to take hold.” Bush’s record deserves a second look, said Victor Davis Hanson in He wasn’t eloquent or slick, but he was a good man who “calmed and united the country” post-9/11, and kept us safe from further attacks on U.S. soil. While mistakes were made in Iraq, his “Churchillian” surge in 2006–07 helped turn the tide. Liberals afflicted with “Bush Derangement Syndrome” portrayed Dubya as a callous moron, but people once scorned Harry Truman, too. Bush’s “warranted rehabilitation will come.”

You can’t be serious, said Steve Benen in Bush’s apologists are now arguing that from 9/12 on, he “kept us safe.” This judicious bit of editing cuts out the fact that the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history happened on his watch. In August 2001, Bush was on vacation at his Texas ranch when he was hand-delivered a CIA memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” with a specific warning about airplanes. “All right,” Bush told the briefer, “you’ve covered your ass now.” He then went back to driving his shiny pickup around his ranch. A month later, 3,000 people died. Saying Bush kept America safe after 9/11 is like saying: “Other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage.” The catastrophes kept piling up after that, said Jonathan Chait in A simpleton who ignored evidence in favor of his gut, Bush led us into a bloody and costly war in Iraq on “deliberately cooked intelligence,” and then horribly botched the occupation, pinning our military down there for a decade. He presided over an economy sustained by easy credit and an unsustainable housing bubble, which directly caused the 2008 meltdown. His unfunded wars and unaffordable tax cuts turned a budget surplus into a $1 trillion annual deficit. History will not be kind to Bush, because his eight-year presidency was “a full disaster at home and abroad.”

Actually, Bush “wasn’t all bad,” said Matthew Yglesias in His “oft-derided” No Child Left Behind Act gave previously abandoned low-income students a chance to succeed. His Medicare prescription-drug program, while costly, has helped millions pay for needed medications. His homelessness policies led to a 30 percent drop in the number of people living on the street. He even had some “worthy failures,” like his doomed 2007 attempt at sensible immigration reform. That doesn’t make up for Bush’s economic and foreign policy failures, but “a lot of things look different once the partisan fights of the moment are over.”

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No matter how many years pass, said Ramesh Ponnuru in, it will be obvious that Bush lacked an essential ingredient: competence. He screwed up Iraq, Katrina, and the economy so badly that to this day, voters don’t really trust Republicans to govern. Yet while today’s GOP rejects the compassion in Bush’s conservatism, it still clings to Bush’s unpopular supply-side economics, his tax-cut mania, and his naïve belief in military adventures abroad. “That’s George W. Bush’s political legacy: a weakened Republican Party unable to face its flaws.”

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