When George W. Bush left office, he did so as one of the most unpopular American presidents ever. But he insisted history would vindicate him, and it seems he was right. With each passing day, I find myself missing Dubya more and more. And I'm hardly alone. In the age of Trump, even many progressives have grown wistful for W.
For conservatives, the case for why we should all be missing Bush is simple: He won. And that's something no other conservative presidential candidate has done since. Say what you will about his narrow victories, but Bush won twice. And not only did he deliver the White House, but also both branches of Congress, and two pretty good Supreme Court picks. With Hillary looking like a shoo-in and Antonin Scalia's seat waiting to be filled, don't you want a guy who can win, fellow conservatives?
Many of my hardcore conservative friends have excoriated Dubya for his supposed breaches of conservative orthodoxy. And I have my own criticisms of his famous brand of "compassionate conservatism." But would you rather have compassionate conservatism, or Trumpism? The insistence by so many organs of movement conservatism that only small-government purism could be considered orthodox conservatism is what set the stage for the backlash against the GOP establishment by its working-class base, propelling Trump to the top of the ticket.
George W. Bush is a man of virtue. He got married only once, and he never cheated on his wife. That shouldn't necessarily be a stand-out quality, but in these late days of the Republic, it is, and I miss that about Bush.
Heck, even Bush's much-mocked malapropisms look positively charming next to Trump's foot-in-mouth ramblings.
Progressives have reason to miss George W. Bush, too. He spent his entire political career, dating back to Texas, reaching out to minorities. The Bush-style communitarian vision of the welfare state was designed to help many minority communities thrive. You may not have liked the way that he, as a conservative, thought that should be done (i.e. "faith-based initiatives"), but his heart was in the right place.
Where Trump scapegoats all Muslims for jihadism, our 43rd president had impeccable tact regarding the Muslim community. From the very morning after 9/11, and all throughout his presidency, George W. Bush unfailingly drew a bright line between Islam, peaceful Muslims, and jihadism.
Yes, the war in Iraq was a disaster. But once Bush decided to stop trusting Dick Cheney so much, he proved himself a deft handler of international affairs. He backed the "surge," at great political cost. He actually backed away from adventurism in places like Georgia. And after ISIS, his belief that a significant U.S. presence in Iraq was a necessary precondition to stability in the region looks downright prescient.
But there's something more important than policy about George W. Bush. You can criticize a lot of his decisions. I certainly have. A lot of them were missed opportunities. Some of them were even disasters. His style as "The Decider" was often mocked. But Bush had a quality as president that today seems invaluable: From all the public record we have, and from all we know from the people who worked with him, it seems unassailable that when he made the major decisions of his presidency, it was because he genuinely believed they were the best decisions for the United States.
That quality ought to be the first requirement of a president, but it is so obviously, glaringly, almost ostentatiously absent today.
Wish you were here, Dubya.