Now in the final hours of his administration, President George W. Bush seems to be receiving some final well-wishes, even from many of his harshest critics while his few remaining supporters seem intent on supporting him blindly while seemingly refusing to acknowledge his deficiencies. So ends the odd and sometimes insuffrable Bush years.
The failure of the administration of the 43rd president is not that he invaded Iraq, was apparently asleep at the wheel when Hurricane Katrina hit, sided with Ted Kennedy on education and immigration, flubbed his initial Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers, or grew government at LBJ speeds. It was all of this that derailed him. It was the liberalism of the first Republican president of the 21st century that caused his failure.
The conservatism embodied in Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan died during the past eight years. It was not merely that the president was liberal when we thought he was conservative, but he had legions of followers on the Right who followed him too blindly. After an election where conservatives and Republicans bemoaned the cult of personality surrounding our incoming president, we should be reminded that an idol was made out of the most recent occupant of the office. Conservatives followed a failed president off the cliff. The wreckage lies at the bottom.
Despite all that, even his biggest mistake, Iraq, is not uniquely Mr. Bush’s fault. His enablers came from both parties. Democrats and Republicans to this day continue to funnel American tax dollars into a Middle Eastern black hole.
Many people (yes, liberals) desired to see Saddam Hussein deposed but only when a humanitarian war went south did they begin to denounce it. The war of national security to remove weapons of mass destruction, that likely existed at one time, became a war of ideology (democracy) and a clash of civilizations. I have stubbornly clung to the belief that the President did not lie in making his case to the nation about the war with Iraq (in fact, I have far more contempt for the neoconservative advisors who, like they did for many others, duped the president about the threat of Hussein‘s Iraq), but regret his refusal to correct an obvious mistake.
Some of the remaining supporters of the president are taking these final hours to harangue his critics who gave him nothing but grief from the very beginning. External obstacles, by and large, did not ruin the presidency of Mr. Bush. It was mainly the ones he set for himself: Iraq, the bureaucratic nightmare of Katrina, his incompetent presiding over a corrupt party, that is what made George W. Bush a failed president and a tragic historical figure.
There is little doubt that George W. Bush’s time in office will be judged by his decision to go to war in Iraq. He will be fortunate if the economy turns around and the recession manages to avoid becoming a depression as the plummeting economy is considered by many to be the final tragic legacy Mr. Bush is leaving to his country.
It was his liberalism that ruined the president’s two terms. Even though Mr. Bush’s successor promises to be different, he appears poised to keep doing more of the same. Instead of Iraq, Mr. Obama will ratchet up the American presence in Afghanistan, a country perhaps impossible to pacify, that could ruin his presidency as the former country ruined Mr. Bush’s. The government grew at an alarming rate under this Republican president and the incoming Democratic president, with stronger majorities than his predecessor ever had, is prepared to explode the government to new and more invasive depths. Did we really learn nothing from the Bush years?
These last few days have filled me with regret. It serves little purpose now to get angry with George W. Bush. After all that has happened over the past eight years, I feel a little sorry for him. Yes, he has been a failed president, but his failure was not inevitable. If he had kept his 2000 campaign pledge of a humble foreign policy and kept his promise to get government out of the people’s way, he would have avoided some of these massive disasters.
Alas, it was not. History is not written by what could have been or what should have been, but what was, and the 43rd president was as an abject failure. Mr. Bush leaves the White House tomorrow and returns home to Texas, which is a site I believe everyone, including the president himself, is happy to see.
Goodbye, Mr. President.