My pal and the purveyor of this blog has a bold assertion on the legacy of the 43rd president.
Bush had one enduring success during his tenure. After 9/11 American soil was never attacked again.
Let’s leave aside the fact that this is a peculiar, among other things, legacy to have because it is like saying that the chief enduring success of FDR was that the Japanese never attacked Hawaii again or that the chief legacy of James Madison’s presidency was that the British only managed to burn down the White House once.
No, the interesting implication there is that Gabe is assuming that an “enduring legacy” must be something positive. All presidents, in this implicit view, must leave behind something positive.
And while the junior Bush did pass some pro-freedom legislation (the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts) and proposed some others (reigning in Fannie and Freddie while still possible, partial Social Security privatization, and immigration reform), the record is still overwhelming bad—scratch that, awful—with regard to leaving behind a successful legacy of freedom and limiting government. Let’s start with domestic policy.
To preface, then-Governor Bush barely won the White House against the robotic vice presidential standard bearer of the preceding scandal-ridden administration, while somehow managing to famously lose the popular vote in the process and putting Americans through almost a month of “all Florida, all the time” hell coverage.
Barely in office, in May of 2001 his party lost control of the U.S. Senate when Republican-turned-independent Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont turn-coated on the GOP majority, handing control of the chamber over to the Democrats for the first time since 1994.
The year after that in January, President Bush signed one of the greatest expansions of federal power over individual decision making and local sovereignty since LBJ’s so-called Great Society: The No Child Left Behind Act. This was particularly shameful not just for the continued destruction of educational freedom and decentralization that it has contributed to, but also because no less than 20 years before it had been a chief Republican priority to abolish the Department of Education entirely. (Both Ronald Reagan and the GOP’s party platform called for returning the bulk of education policy to local communities and the states in 1980).
The next year Bush signed the awful Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which radically assaulted economic freedom under extremely burdensome and intrusive accounting rules as another “do something!” piece of legislation to compensate for the government-induced crony capitalism of the Enron & Co. scandals.
This was followed by the biggest attack on First Amendment political freedom in decades in the form of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold Act) that broadened government power to further restrict and regulate the way Americans can engage in political speech, association, and petitioning their government.
And not one year after that the president shoved the $7 trillion unfunded mandate known as Medicare Part D down the throats of the American people, committing poor young Americans to be further expropriated by government to subsidize the richest voting demographic in the world, elderly Americans, and setting the stage for an even bigger government takeover in Obamacare seven years later.
This is not even mentioning the massive artificial credit expansion initiated by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to facilitate George Bush’s “compassionate” conservative “Ownership Society” housing programs—otherwise known as the brilliant idea that every debt-riddled deadbeat in America should own a home and every bank stupid enough to make the loan should be “protected” from market forces by bailout guarantees. (Yes, technically the agenda of full homeownership started under Clinton and can even be traced back to Carter with legislation like the Community Reinvestment Act, but with Bush’s Debtor-ship Society at work the crisis got kicked into overdrive).
However, that’s not instrumental to the “enduring legacy” argument that Gabe is putting forth. It’s true that if you both A) hold the priority of “keeping us safe,” broadly defined for our purposes as preventing large scale terrorist attacks from happening a second time inside the United States, as your top priority and B) are willing to ignore the interventionist devastation to the U.S. economy and to American civil liberties under the Bush administration, then you may consider the man who occupied the Oval Office from 2001 to 2009 to be a success.
But let’s first state the obvious that before and after the September 11th attacks professional studies still put an American citizen’s chances of being killed in a coordinated terrorist attack at about 1 in 20 million. Compare that with the likelihood of dying in a car accident at 1 in 19,000 and the chance of being killed in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000.
So congratulations, George W. Bush, you protected the American people from a threat so small that it’s basically a statistical impossibility. Now if he really wanted to keep us safe, he should have declared war on the Kohler Corporation and its bathtubs of mass destruction! (Sarcasm)
But the central argument of the “He kept us safe” narrative is fundamentally flawed in that it bears an almost carbon copy-like resemblance to the Obama partisans’ one that somehow with the 2009 $787 billion “stimulus” program, we would all in an Lord of the Flies-style barbaric dystopia right now fully replete with human sacrifices.
In essence it’s trying to prove a counter-factual. Bush’s partisans, like Obama’s, are trying to find an embedded diamond in an administration whose failures and bad ideas outnumber all the grains of sand in the Sahara.
Did George Bush prevent another 9/11? Perhaps. But the more important question any society has to ask itself is was what we gave up more valuable or less valuable than what we got for it?
He abandoned liberty in one of its maximum hours of peril and the American people are far less free, prosperous, and safe because of it.
And that is the enduring legacy George W. Bush.