The Library and Legacies of George W. Bush
George W. Bush (2001-2009) just opened up his own Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas. His legacy remains controversial, decidedly mixed, with outrage from many circles about his foreign policy.
By Arthur Christopher Schaper | April 29, 2013
Photo of Bush's Second Inaugural, January 20, 2005. Courtesy George W. Bush Library
Since President since Herbert Hoover, former chief executives have placed their imprint on history through their own libraries. President George W. Bush (Bush 43) certified his own at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Presidents, past and present, commemorated the event with small talk and highlights of Bush ‘43’’s administration. Jimmy Carter celebrated Bush’s aid for AIDS in Africa. Handicapped and ailing, Father Bush shared a few words to congratulate his son (only the second time in history with father and son as President). Bill Clinton joked and self-promoted. President Obama praised Bush 43’s leadership during and after 9-11, followed by his attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in 2006-2007 (which Bush’s own party and the nation had rejected en masse). Obama forgot to praise Bush’s Hispanic outreach in 2004, whose strategies Obama copied to great effect in 2008 and 2012.
Upon taking the podium at last, Bush ’43 first poked fun at himself: “Most would think that I wouldn’t have been found at a library, much less found one.” Former advisers praise the younger Bush’s unrecognized intellect. Bush also shared his deeper compassion and patriotism at the pulpit.
Bush had plenty of victories. His 2001 and 2003 tax cuts restored respect for the private citizen and the small business. President Obama has made those tax cuts permanent for the ubiquitous 99%. Bush’s Supreme Court appointments of Samuel Alito and John Roberts were supremely superb. Despite upholding ObamaCare, Chief Justice Roberts created an impenetrable hedge around the commerce clause so that future administrations will not force people to purchase anything. Contrary to liberal pleadings, Citizens United has diminished the dominance of the dollar in politics.
With political capital, Bush tried to privatize social security in order to save it. Bush vetoed embryonic stem cell research in 2006. On one of his most potent legacies, the War on Terror, President Bush showed no moral equivalence. He was not afraid to look evil in the eye and call it what it was. He showed masterful resolve going after Al-Qaeda. Bush had his gaffes, but Obama is making gaffes. If the media had hounded Obama as they had harassed Bush, Obama would not have a second term. Under Obama, Bin Laden is dead, but five attacks in five years have exploded on US soil since Obama became President. "Bush kept us safe". Thank you, President Bush.
Bush had policy blunders, though his blunders do not rival the folly of President Obama.
Cutting taxes, Bush did not cut federal spending, which exploded during his tenure. The deficits were not as bad as Obama’s annual trillion-dollar extravaganzas, but Bush has no excuse for spending recklessly in the first place. His last deficit was $157 billion, give or take hundreds of millions, yet even Congressman Henry Waxman arguably pointed out that the United States had a surplus in 2000, which fiscal crises because of the Housing Crisis abounded in 2008. “We have to suspend the rules of the free market in order to save it” will haunt President Bush, a contrary move which discouraged a generation of Republican Presidential candidates in 2008 and 2012.
"No Child Left Behind" leaves children behind. Why would anyone co-sponsor anything with Ted “Chappaquiddick” Kennedy? Students are drowning in tests, scoring, and paperwork. Red states still seek waivers from that failing, misguided program. Students have now resolutely refused to take these tests. Public school advocate Diane Ravitch trumpeted the era of “Higher standards through Standardized tests” with NCLB passed --she even helped initiate the program. Ten years later, she expressed her disillusionment. Other blunders include the Medicare Part D expansion, which added to deficits and debt (though nothing like the massive divestments of ObamaCare). The Transportation Bill of 2005 was as anti-conservative as it gets. Florida invalid Terry Schiavo should have been left alone to perish, as her husband chose. Bush's intervention was unconscionable and unconstitutional. Bush's Louisiana "fly-over" during Hurricane Katrina was bad, but his response was rapid and respectable. Geographers, climatologists, and urban planners had warned New Orleans and Louisiana for years about the dangers of a massive hurricane, yet no one listened.
After 9-11, Afghanistan had to be cleared of Al-Qaeda, but Iraq was a bad policy move, yes indeed. Five separate intelligence agencies did report weapons of mass destruction, which Syria’s diminishing dictator Bashar al-Assad may be using against his own people right now. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was not lying about WMD, nor was Bush. Still, to get the US to take down Saddam Hussein was a bad idea. To diminish Bush’s folly, one could surmise that the festering tribal rivalries ravaging the Middle East were inevitable, whether the United States had invaded or not. And President Obama’s apology tour plus dubious support for Israel has only made things worse.
Bush 43 has his library, with a legacy to promote, to shape, to justify, or to spare from those who would vilify. “Is your children learnin’”? Who knows what they will read in future history books. For now, Bush 43 gets a mixed grade for domestic policies, but a failing grade in foreign policy.
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