Monday, January 19, 2009

The Bush Legacy and an Ungrateful Nation

[This is a duplicate of something I posted at Down With Absolutes. The reaction received was all too predictable.]

At noon on January 20, 2009, President Bush will leave office. Though his approval rating has risen recently to as high as 34% (it was in the 20’s), he leaves office as a largely unpopular president.

Part of his disapproval rating stems from a rough third of the nation on the left side of the political spectrum that George Bush would never please, even if he had been unbelievably successful in keeping this nation prosperous and peaceful at home and abroad. Bush began his presidency wanting to change the tone in Washington, perhaps naively thinking he could repeat as President of the United States what he accomplished as Governor of Texas, overcoming visceral political hostilities with good will and an outstretched hand. But while he was extending an olive branch, the entrenched political left in Washington was sharpening its knives.

Though disapproval from the left was predictable and largely unavoidable, I imagine that the other third of the population that disapproves of how George Bush handled his job consists of folks like me, though I voted for him twice and believe that history will eventually vindicate him. My main area of disapproval is Bush’s seeming abandonment of some key conservative principles, with fiscal responsibility first and foremost among them. Though the legislative branch was for the most part controlled by his own party, he allowed government spending to skyrocket, and fiscal deficits along with it.

Other key issues that have caused low approval ratings have more to do with what President Bush intended but failed to do. But unlike most, I actually credit him for risking (and ultimately losing) political capital in his attempt to achieve a number of much needed reforms, reforms that ultimately failed due either to entrenched political opposition or popular disapproval. Popular disapproval notwithstanding, he was absolutely correct on the following issues:

1. Social Security: When campaigning in 2000, Bush called Social Security the “third rail” of U.S. politics that no one wanted to touch, but he intended to fix it. He was proven right about it being a third rail, as the demagogues saw to it that no attempt at reform would succeed. He was and still is right that Social Security is on a fast track to insolvency absent a massive restructuring and (preferably) a shift toward privatization. As it is, Social Security is a fraudulent ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff blush, and we are much closer to its eventual collapse because we as a nation have refused to do anything about it. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

2. Immigration Reform: President Bush angered the conservative base of his own party by proposing immigration reform that would allow for a guest worker program and also compassionately deal with approximately 12 million illegal immigrants within our borders. Though I generally identify with that conservative base, I part company with them on this issue. While I can agree with the need to secure our borders, it is in our interest to make it easier for people to legally come to the US and pursue the American dream, as long as we know who they are and that they do not intend us any harm. And though I don’t believe in a blanket amnesty, it would be both practical and compassionate to allow otherwise law abiding illegal immigrants (many of whom have been here for years and raised families) the opportunity to come forward, pay a fine and other applicable fees, and become legal documented workers. In so doing, they would start fully paying their fair share of taxes and no longer be a burden on our schools, hospitals and the public sector in general. But while my fellow conservatives (especially those in talk radio) are congratulating themselves for having defeated immigration reform, the unacceptable status quo continues to grow worse.

George Bush had the moral and political courage to confront both of these issues, knowing full well that they were unpopular but also knowing full well that it was the right thing to do. Yet there remains still another issue where Bush showed even greater moral courage, paying no attention to the shifting winds of popular opinion, an issue where he stood his ground like no other because the stakes were much higher. Of course, I am talking about the war on terror in all its aspects, up to and including the war in Iraq.

Bush’s response to the events of September 11, 2001 brought a long overdue paradigm shift in US policy with regard to terrorism, law enforcement and intelligence. The primary paradigm shift was to actually call it a war. The major flaw in our pre-9/11 “strategy“ was to treat international terrorism as a law enforcement problem. Our response to all the hijackings, the first World Trade Center bombing, the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and on the US Cole, etc. consisted of a pathetic exercise in hand-wringing, followed by forensic analysis and gathering of evidence for a court of law, even though the perpetrators were hopelessly out of reach. Even if we could find the perpetrators, there was something fundamentally flawed about waiting for the terrorists to strike us and then hunting them down as garden variety criminals, and giving them access to all the rights and privileges of our courts. It took a direct attack on our homeland and 3000+ dead to awaken us to our stupidity.

It was President Bush who called a spade a spade and declared it a war, beginning an aggressive campaign to hunt down terrorists wherever they are, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. He also put the world on notice, particularly nations known for harboring terrorists: “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists.” He rankled the despotic and repressive nations of the world (including some of our “allies” in the Middle East), stating that they were part of the problem, as the poverty, hopelessness and lack of human rights were serving as breeding grounds for terrorism: He was absolutely correct in stating, “When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror. “

This was one of the primary reasons for going to war in Iraq (Contrary to popular belief and revisionist history, Iraq was not just about weapons of mass destruction.). And say what you will about Iraq, it has been a huge success. We rid that nation and the world of a brutal and ruthless dictator who had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and was awaiting the opportunity to develop and use them again. Iraq is now a U.S. ally and a democracy with a hopeful future, despite the attempts of Al Qaeda to foment factionalism and violence. Al Qaeda has been largely defeated in Iraq, which is why it is running back to Afghanistan in an attempt to foment trouble in another one of the success stories of the global war on terror.

The successes in Iraq and Afghanistan are due in large part to the courage and perseverance of President Bush. He knew that the reason for his declining approval numbers were the same reasons that they used to be in the 90% range. Popular opinion, while important, is fickle. Bush knew the stakes were high and refused to flinch or change course despite the shifting political winds.

There has not been another attack on US soil since 9/11. While the war on terror is by no means over, terrorists are on the run. Within our borders, we have returned to a seeming normalcy. Yet President Bush and those in the military and intelligence community know that there are still people out there who are seeking opportunities to attack us again.

Ironically, this is still another reason for Bush’s unpopularity: He has been a victim of his own success. Because life has gone back to a seeming normalcy, the urgency, unity and national pride that followed the attacks of 9/11 are gone, and the political opposition has sharpened its knives again, seeking to rewrite history and shamelessly slander the president.


Anonymous said...

I think you make wonderful points

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...


Lot of great items in this article. Know that it won't make the msm for sure. They don't know how to call a spade a spade, and the truth is not in them, nor even close by. Bush had the guts to head out on the terrorist trail in search of those unconcionable cowards, and to make them pay. It has cost us some fine young American lives, yet might not have had to, had the former White House 'occupant' done his 'job', instead of 'getting one', there might have been a different recollection of these past 8 years.

We all know that Willie boy was about playtime, not leadership, and yet could've stopped Osama and his cronies when they were still accessable, and not after years of hiding out in the hills.

But...coulda, shoulda, woulda...we have what we have. It's my sincerest hope, that the new kid on the block, has any huevos at all, this man who made the statement that " if the political winds shift unfavorably, I would have to side with the Muslims." Now that's a scary thought, and people should consider that some individuals are so cocky, that they will tell you what they can and will do when the time comes. So we now have an individual in power, that has stated he would 'side with' the Muslims. That we can probably bank on.

G. W. Bush may well be the last president to protect the nations interest, rather than vie for world acceptance. When one strives for popular acceptance, rather than to do the hard thing, the right thing, then one has already sold out his character. And without character, my friend, this society is already finished.

Stay alert and be blessed.