Can Dubya Reinvent His Presidency?

george bush fliesGeorge Bush’s New Book, Decision Points

As George W. Bush does a rash of media interviews to promote his new book, Decision Points, some people—even his nemesis, hip-hop star Kanye West—have begun to mute their criticisms of his presidency. This is nothing new; as time passes and old wounds heal, the nation’s impression of former presidents—no matter how bad they were—seems to improve. Even Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson’s presidencies improved with age. Will the passage of time improve George W. Bush’s legacy?

Unfortunately, that is a possibility. Although Bush can’t change his domestic catastrophes, such as the federal response to Hurricane Katrina or the horrendous financial crisis and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, if Iraq and Afghanistan eventually reach some stability, he may be regarded as the man who threw out the despotic regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.

But fractious Iraq and corrupt Afghanistan may very well succumb to long-term instability as a result of Bush’s doing exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted him to do—overreact to the 9/11 attacks so that bin Laden could strengthen the radical Islamist movement by getting more money and recruits from all over the world. After 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq, terrorism spiked globally.

Future generations may also condemn Bush for conducting the first major expansion of entitlements since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Piling on a monstrous new benefit, prescription drugs, on an already rickety Medicare system was appallingly irresponsible. Of course, taxpayers always fall for the Republicans’ fake tax cuts—pioneered by Ronald Reagan and imitated by W. While cutting taxes, Bush waged two expensive wars and had the biggest increases in domestic spending since the Johnson administration. Republican White Houses rarely cut spending, which renders the tax cuts fake because taxes later have to be raised or money has to be borrowed (with public borrowing crowding out private credit) or printed (causing inflation).

And strangely, Barack Obama, although dubbed a “liberal Democrat,” has pursued similar policies to the “conservative” Dubya. Obama will end up extending most or all of Bush’s fake tax cuts, because he has spent like a drunken sailor too. Although Bush began the stimulus, Obama really turned on the $787 billion spigot. Bush bailed out the banks, socialized the AIG insurance company, and finished socializing the mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but Obama socialized the car companies. And while Bush increased expenditures tremendously by providing a new government prescription drug benefit, Obama installed an expensive and bureaucratic health care “reform.” Finally, Bush increased federal encroachment into education, while Obama continued this trend with his “Race to the Top” program.


Neither president excelled in dealing with natural (Katrina for Bush) or man-made (the BP oil spill for Obama) disasters.

Obama has cut back on Bush’s torture of detainees but still allows a loophole for the CIA; on civil liberties Obama is slightly better than Bush but not much, because he has continued most of the Bush administration’s unconstitutional policies.

One of the few major differences between the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations is in foreign policy. Obama has been withdrawing troops from Iraq, while doubling down in Afghanistan and receiving praise from W. for doing it. However, this shift has resulted in a reduction in U.S. forces in harm’s way by about 100,000. In general, Obama has scared the rest of the world less with his foreign policy—negotiating a strategic arms limitation agreement with Russia, reducing U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, improving U.S.-Russian relations, and negotiating more seriously with Iran and North Korea (although in the end, Obama may have to accept that both countries will have nuclear weapons and rely on the massive U.S. nuclear arsenal to deter these small nations).

Ivan ElandRight now, both Bush and Obama have had pathetic presidencies, but Obama has a slight edge, provided by a mildly less belligerent overall foreign policy. And as they did when Bill Clinton was president, the newly elected Republican budget hawks might actually cause Obama to restrain federal spending, thus reversing his present profligate course, reducing the yawning deficit, and improving his present low standing. However, the Republicans, who are usually more fiscally responsible when they don’t control the White House, can probably only do so much to burnish Obama’s overall legacy.

On the other hand, since Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to be unstable for years, if not decades, W.’s standing will probably not improve much either.

Ivan Eland

This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    I must say that the handling of Katrina was the Presidency at it’s worst. At the time, my reaction was- send in the military with everything it has to help the people on the ground-an invasion if necessary. Bush explains for the first time, in a way that I clearly understand, his problem with the approach. It was the constitution and laws of the United States that got in his way as his first reaction was the same as mine. He got no cooperation from the Governor of Louisiana who would not give her approval for the military to come into the state. He also wanted to have the mayor issue evacuation orders that never came until it was too late. The President was left to calling the crisis an insurrection which would have allowed him to call in the military. This, he was unwilling to do, lest he be criticized for abusing his office. Of course, in retrospect, he should have done it to save lives. I doubt anyone except a constitutional purist would have complained. I think he was wrong but his rationale was understandable but misguided. Americans would have forgiven him for using too much power in this situation. Whether Obama or any other President would have reacted differently is an open question. I wish someone would pose the question to Obama. I wonder how he would answer the question under the same cirucumstances presented to Bush at the time. After all, Obama is a constitutional scholar, or so everyone claims. In any case, by education alone, Obama would have had to grapple with the same constitutional questions as Bush. I don’t think it would have bothered a Reagan or Kennedy at all. They were smart enough to realize you do what you have to do and accept the consequences later which is how a good (Harry Truman type) President would have done.

  2. marshall says

    It would be fun to see all presidents judged using the same standards by all the judges. When I was young, Truman was the biggest failure as president. There were some real bums before that but we seem to remember the most recent in the least light. This will also come to the current office holder. His job score in the gulf can not be higher than the Bush gulf score.

    • Dianne Jarreau says

      @marshall
      You are correct about the “score in the gulf can not be higher than the Bush gulf score”, which I’d already said as I finished the Eland article and before I’d read your comment. That is because the Bush menage were directly responsible for both events: BP, and Katrina before that(which began, who knows how far back, when the oil rigs went up in the Gulf? The continual degradation of the Wetlands’ecology made Katrina inevitable and it seems quite finalized now).
      Other than that,Eland’s article kept sounding more and more Republican to me as I read it; and I thought that the LA Progressive was what the T-Party referred to as Socialism? I first read it because of a writer at LA Progressive who went off to cover just the facts, mam,re:Sarah Palin, which were then mentioned in the Anchorage Daily News. Which seemed to me the most likely place to go to although my brother has lived there for years ever since the oil pipeline had to be laid; but, he talks to no one or, at least it is always a surprise in the family,because it was the IRS who sent him to keep an eye on things.
      I would not have discovered the LA Progressive otherwise all on my own, I’m quite sure.

  3. George says

    Where did dry drunk Bush push the Taliban? Before the Bush Crusade, they were not in Iraq and they were in Afghanistan. After the Bush Crusade, they are not in Iraq and they are still in Afghanistan. All the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost in the Bush Crusade accomplished was to eliminate one dictator with results that are uncertain in all respects except that it increased Iran’s influence. The most notable feature of his prowess was Abu Ghraib.

    President Sarah Palin might have a chance at “America’s Worst,” but it would be a nail biter right up to the final episode.

    If Obama was ever a liberal, he lost it at his first Prayer Breakfast with The Family, but at least he is a genuine adult.

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