Monday, September 10, 2007

Bush's Legacy

This will be the blog of a conservative law professsor. My first offering is on the legacy of Bush


The defeat of the Immigration Reform Plan couples with the assumed stalemate in Iraq has resulted in pundits widely proclaiming the failed presidency of the Bush Administration. George W. Bush, R.I.P.

A little history will throw cold water on this instant analysis. Almost every President since FDR has similarly “failed.”

Of the 11 post-Roosevelt Presidents, only five (Ike, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II) were elected to two four year terms. All had second term malaise. Of these, Nixon resigned and Clinton was impeached. Neither Ike nor Clinton, as with LBJ, saw their Vice Presidents elected as their successor to the Presidency. Ike and Bush II both lost Republican Congresses, Clinton said goodbye to a Democratic Congress, and Reagan a Republican Senate.

Ford, Carter, and Bush I were defeated for reelection, while Truman and LBJ dropped their reelection bids. Just as Bush II is plagued by Iraq, Truman was hurt by Korea and LBJ and Nixon dragged down by Vietnam. The American public lacks patience with seemingly interminable wars without visible progress.

The difference between success and failure is often very thin. For example, had General Sherman not fortuitously won a major battle shortly before the 1864 election, President Lincoln would surely have lost reelection and probably gone down in history as a failure. The North, led by President McClellan, may have sued for peace. The platform of the Democratic Party declared the war a failure.

Nixon’s Watergate resignation was ultimately brought about by Deep Throat, the Deputy Director of the FBI, W. Mark Felt, who was upset about being passed over as J. Edgar Hoover’s successor. His revenge was to bring down a President, and unleash three decades of blind partisanship, special prosecutors, and calls for impeachment.

Truman (North Korea’s invasion of South Korea), Ike (Gary Francis Powers and the U2), JFK (Bay of Pigs), Carter (Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), Reagan (Iran-Contra), Bush I (Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait), Clinton (bombing a civilian factory) and Bush II (Hussein and WMD) all had intelligence/CIA failures. Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II successively experienced the ferocity of Islamic fundamentalism.

Every President since Truman has had problems with Fidel Castro and Cuba. Elian Gonzalez probably elected Bush II President.

Ike, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II combated economic problems during their administrations, including recessions, inflation, and stagflation. No President has been able to control the ever burgeoning farm subsidies. Bush I and now Bush II have had major banking crises in their administrations.

Humans being human, scandals will occur. Truman, Ike, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II all witnessed major scandals, some self-inflicted, in their administrations.

I’ve said little about JFK because he was not in office long enough to judge, and the charisma of Camelot still blinds us. JFK most likely would have been reelected, but Vietnam would have become the deciding point of his second term.

What history tells us is that every Presidency has successes and failures, legislative victories and defeats, and foreign policy accomplishments and disappointments. Every Presidency has its ups and downs, but only with the passage of time can we objectively assess historical figures.

Bush’s political failures in the second term were the result of willing to expend political capital on the difficult issues of social security and immigration. History will tell us in decades that Bush was right to tackle both. Neither status quo is sustainable for America. While social security reform failed, Bush successfully introduced measures to temper the rise in Medicaid.

Katrina was a collective failure of government at all levels. Since legally the initial response to a natural disaster is state and local, most onuses should fall on the Democratic Governor of Louisiana (who is not running for reelection) and the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans.

Iraq is a different story, but as with immigration reform, the effort is based upon a core set of beliefs rather than the polls. Bush’s legacy may well be defined by the outcome- not in Iraq- but in the Mideast, and that we will not know for decades.

The fundamental problem in Iraq is the Peace Dividend. The United States at the end of the Cold War, as it has after every major war, substantially downsized the military. The Pentagon lacks the troop size today to fight a long sustained ground war.

Conversely, the substantial military cutbacks initiated by Bush I and carried through by Clinton resulted in Clinton balancing the budget.

As we mull over his supposed failures, we forget the tremendous successes. First are the tax cuts which are fueling a solidly based economic boom. Second is the liberation of Afghanistan. Even if Iraq turns out unsuccessful, let us not forget that Libya gave up its WMD program. And it appears that North Korea is closing down its nuclear reactor. Faith based initiatives have survived challenges, and the Supreme Court has become conservative. “No Child Left Behind” has brought a degree of accountability to public education, and the Medicare Act of 2003 with its prescription drug coverage is resulting in lower prescription drug prices to an ageing population.

A similar list of successes exists for every President. For example, Truman, Ike, and LBJ all fostered tremendous civil rights progress for minorities – a fight which still continues.

Everything else will be moot if Bush’s missile defense program results in shooting down a nuclear tipped missile fired at the United States. Bush’s (and Reagan’s) legacy will be secured.

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