Reconsidering the George W. Bush Presidency

Reconsidering the George W. Bush Presidency April 25, 2013

George W. Bush has taken up painting in his retirement. ABC news reported:

Bush has said he was inspired to paint by reading Winston Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime.” He told Sawyer that his new activity has helped him continue to learn, following the example of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

“You know what the interesting lesson is though, that you can keep learning in life. I mean, some guy one time said to me, ‘Man, you deserve to rest.’ And I don’t wanna rest. I wanna live life to the — I wanna follow the example of President 41 and, you know, sprint into the grave.”

Painting, Bush said, has “been eye-opening for me.  I mean, I look at colors differently and I see shadow.” He’s also particularly proud of one of his self-portraits, which leaked online earlier this year when someone hacked a relative’s e-mail account. That painting shows his own toes poking out of a bathtub, with the water running.

“By the way, that’s not that easy to paint, water hitting water just so, you know, and the perspective… It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” he said. “It may reflect my precocious nature, me painting myself in a bathtub,” he added half-seriously, playing art critic.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will hold its official grand opening today on the campus of SMU. The library and museum looks absolutely amazing (The Daily Beast has a pretty good look inside the $300 million facility). I’ve been reading articles all week saying that many are softening their critiques of his time in office. A Washington Post poll says his approval rating is at a 7-year high with 47% approval, 50% disapproval. I thought it might be worth a second look.

One of the enduring images from the Bush era is Will Ferrell doing his “W” imitation and the entry of the word “strategery” into the American lexicon. W was never great with words, and although it’s a punchline to most people, one word choice turned out to be huge.

“The worst thing that happened was the words, “We are at war.” September 11 was not war, it was murder. You want to arrest murderers. As soon as the words “We are at war” were said, it gave Bin Laden what he wanted. It made him a warrior. Before that, he was a murderer. Islamic people also abhor murder. And if we had kept the language within that range we would have had a better chance at securing the cooperation we needed from people who could actually do something.”    – Stanley Hauerwas

The two ensuing wars cost the nation somewhere around $4 trillion and played a huge role in why the nation plunged into a deep recession. When we consider that every possible rationale for the war in Iraq was made public, while every argument calling its necessity into question was kept from the American public, it seems likely that history will always judge that harshly, especially given the fact that 3,600 Americans were killed in Iraq. It was a huge mistake that will define his presidency.

 The Wall Street Journal‘s Rex Nutter listed his top seven Bush era mistakes. Here are a few that are worth noting:

Bush politicized parts of the government that should be nonpartisan. From NASA to the Justice Department, professionals were forced out or silenced if they departed from the true Republican way… Every administration is political to some extent, but the Bush administration took it too far…

Bush squandered the budget surplus. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Bush had a near-religious faith in the ability of tax cuts to deliver prosperity. Tax cuts were the panacea that would cure all ills. Economy too strong? Cut taxes. Economy too weak? Cut taxes. Stock market falling? Cut dividend taxes. Investment weak? Cut capital gains taxes. But tax cuts didn’t make the economy stronger; they merely blew a big hole in the budget…

Bush comforted the comfortable and afflicted the afflicted. The Bush years were the ultimate test of trickle-down economics, the theory that says the government should favor the rich because the benefits will flow down to the rest of us. The results of that experiment are clear: We’ve had the weakest job growth since the 1930s. We’ve had the biggest increase in debt ever. We’ve had the highest share of national income going to profits since the 1920s. Income inequality has soared while our public and private investment has slowed to a trickle…

 In his article for The Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon says that in the end,

“There is no white-washing of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, of enhanced-interrogation techniques, of Hurricane Katrina, or of the fiscal crisis.”

Bush has always said that he doesn’t care about his legacy. He always did what he thought was right and history will have to decide. I respect the position, but I don’t think history will be quite as kind to him as it was to Truman or Churchill.

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