Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their last president. Yes, it is reevaluate George W. Bush time! And the pundits are out with their “Bush weren’t so bad” articles. (Yes, that was a little grammar humor with the subjunctive.) As you can probably guess, I don’t think much about this rethinking. The truth is that I have major problems with the current president and he is almost unimaginably better than the last.
Of course, the big thing now is for conservatives to come out in favor of Bush. Jennifer Rubin told us earlier today that Bush Is Back. And I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of that. Also today, Matt Yglesias tried to buff this iconoclast credentials with, Some Good Things George W. Bush Did. But sadly for Mr. Bush (but great for truth, justice, and the America way), he was not up to the task.
He mentions, as he said, some good things that Bush did. But they all come with negatives. Sure, Bush put more money into education; but he also enshrined our testing mania. He gave prescription drug coverage to seniors; but that was just a way to create one of the worst examples of corporate welfare ever. He created the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; but he also limited sex education to abstinence only and spread disinformation about condoms. In the end, the best that Yglesias can say is, “Does this outweigh exceptional poor macroeconomic performance and well-known national security policy failures? Probably not.” That’s an understatement.
We’ve already read about Jeb Bush and others claiming that history will be kind to Bush. Yesterday, Jonathan Bernstein wrote an excellent article that destroys that claim, The Wrath of the Conquest of the Planet of the Bride of the Son of the Return of Cranky Blogging. He doesn’t look were most people have: at the disastrous outcomes of Bush’s policies. Instead, he looks at process and especially how disengaged Bush was. His conclusion:
Anyway, my guess is that Bush’s reputation will wind up if anything worse, not better, than his current reputation. Why? Because I suspect that when we get more information, we’ll see more instances where he was indifferent, uninvolved, unprepared, easily manipulated, and generally not up for the job and not particularly interested in doing anything about it. In other words, I’m guessing that the worst stereotypes of him as president will turn out to be true—and that his reputation, currently hurt by outcomes, will stay lousy or get worse as we learn more about process.
And it isn’t like Bernstein is some radical. Earlier today, he wrote a mostly positive discussion of Max Baucus’ career. Regardless, I think Bernstein is correct. Bush’s improved polling numbers are just due to the fact that most people have forgotten how Bush governed. Historians will not be fooled by that. Time will only sharpen the historical lens on both his processes and his outcomes. What’s more, his partisan apologists will eventually die off and there will be no one to replace them. Bush will be remembered as a bad president, but I wouldn’t necessarily say the worst; there is so much competition for that.