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Reputed conservative president George W. Bush walks off into the sunset with a 34% approval rating. That's the same approval rating Jimmy Carter, the Plague From Plains, left with 28 years ago. Carter brought us a new word - 'stagflation.' They haven't invented a word yet for what Bush has brought. If they do invent a new word for him, I doubt it will be kind.
The reality of Bush is that he was a fiscal liberal and a foreign policy neocon. Now we know what Bush meant by 'compassionate conservatism.' It meant 'spend a lot of dough and cut taxes at the same time.' On the fiscal side, he brought us the first new Medicare program since the 1960's, Part D, the prescription drug benefit. He was a BIG spender from beginning to end. He increased spending in virtually every area of government, so I won't even try to list them all. That's not at all conservative in my book. His final act was to urge Congress to allocate the additional $350 billion in TARP funds to his successor. That's not at all conservative either. He ran up huge deficits in every one of his 8 years, adding the most to our national debt of any president. Not at all conservative. Under his watch, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates even as the housing bubble grew and grew. Not at all conservative. The conservative move would have been countercyclical, to raise interest rates during the boom period to slow down the bubble and promote solid conservative growth, as opposed to the boom-bust cycles that marked Bush's presidency. In fact, the primary solution to the current economic downturn is also countercyclical, to lower interest rates to stimulate housing, lending, and credit again. At least the Fed is doing it right now, though they should do more, cut them even lower. Spending trillions and trillions of dollars is not necessary, is frightfully stupid, and is incredibly dangerous in the long term. The hole we have to climb out only gets deeper, yet we're still digging. Fiscal sanity has been abandoned, and much of the blame lies with Bush, along with 8 years of a Congress that went along with it, six years under Republican control (what were they thinking ?), and two years under Democrat control (the two biggest deficit years in history). Unfortunately, the incoming administration promises more of the very same thing. It appears Obama is going to use the economic downturn to implement all his campaign promises under the guise of 'stimulus', when much of it isn't stimulus at all. The horse is out of the barn.
On the foreign policy front, I see Bush as partly right and partly wrong. The Afghanistan War was right. The Iraq War was wrong (but once we were in it, it became imperative that we succeed. I have nothing but contempt for those who voted for the war when it was popular, but then reversed course and tried to undermine it for their own political gain the second it became unpopular. The names John Kerry and Hillary Clinton come to mind). Wiretapping international calls from terrorists and tracking their finances after 9/11 was right. Torture was wrong, if it happened (though I can't bring myself to shed a tear over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, being waterboarded for 2 minutes. I just can't. We even waterboarded Navy Seals as part of their training, but we're supposed to gnash our teeth and wail over a guy who killed 3,000 innocent americans, who bragged a couple days ago about being involved in 30 worldwide terrorist attacks, who had knowledge of future attack plans ? No. Sorry. Can't do it.) I had no problem with Bush putting prisoners of war at Gitmo, with 'war' being the key word that the anti-Bush forces seemed to conveniently forget. Several terrorist plots were thwarted after 9/11 on Bush's watch, so he gets credit for that. He reformed our national security apparatus to better deal with the threat of terrorism. He gets credit for that too. Bush stuck with the failing Rumsfeld strategy in Iraq for far too long. That's a big minus. Thank you, General David Petraeus, for finally making him see the light there. And thank you, George Soros, for proving what a colossal ass you are with that General Betray-Us ad.
Btw, conspiracy theorists, blaming Bush for the 9/11 attacks is stupid.
The Hurricane Katrina response involved the failure of government at all levels - local, state, and federal. Part of that was no doubt due to the fact that we never had to deal with anything like that before, not to mention those second rate levees, but Bush struck several wrong notes, appearing almost indifferent at first. That looked real bad, as did the petty squabbling over jurisdiction between Bush and Louisiana Governor Blanco with so many american lives hanging in the balance.
I hear many conservatives saying Bush will be judged more favorably from a distance, from the long perspective of history. That may or may not be true, but it is little more than wishful thinking on their part at this point. Much of it probably depends on how the future of Iraq plays out, and nobody has a crystal ball to make that determination now, especially in an area of the world as volatile as the Middle East.
I have no doubt that George W. Bush did what he thought was right. I don't attribute all kinds of evil machiavellian motives to his actions, as the lunatic fringe do. His presidency was defined by 9/11, and his actions, both right and wrong, were taken in that context. Bush definitely isn't the smartest president we've ever had (understatement), but even when he made the wrong move, such as with Iraq, which ultimately destroyed his popularity and the popularity of his own Republican party, he wasn't looking at polls to determine how he should act. He was looking at his own idea of right vs. wrong, or as Bush recently put it, good vs. evil. You might disagree with him, as I often did, but you weren't the one who had to make those hard decisions. He did.