Keane observations about life, politics and sports.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

President George W. Bush - In Retrospective

Tonight President Bush will give his farewell address to the nation. As his term in office is winding down many are starting to write retrospective columns and are considering his legacy. Time will tell what his true legacy will be. His successor will actually have a lot to do with how Bush's actions and accomplishment are eventually perceived by history. The most obvious area where this will happen is in the War on Terror. Whether the new administration continues to prosecute the War on Terror aggressively or withdraws from the fight preemptively will go a long way in determining whether Iraq is eventually a stable democracy. In this post I'll run through my thoughts about the Bush presidency. At the bottom, I'll provide links to various articles and columns.

* In my estimation, character is the first and most important attribute when considering a president. Without decent and honest character it is impossible to properly deal with the myriad of issues and situation a president will encounter. In this regard, President Bush is rates very highly. People who know him speak glowingly about his decency. His main character flaws are things that other politicians need more of, namely he is too loyal and he is awfully stubborn.

* The primary responsibility of a president is national defense. Prior to September 2001 our nation was under the false pretense of living in a peaceful world. On 11 September of that year we were wakened from our slumber and realized Islamic Extremists (which is code word for 90% of the world's Muslim population) were at war with us whether we played along or not. Since then, President Bush did not take the easy route taken by his predecessors of talking about taking action and then doing little or nothing in response. Despite warnings that Afghanistan was a death trap and could not be handled without tens of thousands of casualties, Bush directed a campaign which effectively wiped out the Taliban and al Qaeda was thrown to the wind. Then with an understanding that it would be irresponsible to allow a growing threat to go unchecked, Bush finally dealt with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq which had never complied with the terms of surrender from the first Gulf War. Every war plan is perfect until it meets the enemy and that is true of the plans for post war Iraq. The war was won but the peace was initially lost due to a failure to secure the borders. Insurgents poured across the borders from Syria, Turkey and Iran. It would have been easy to surrender the peace when things got difficult. Instead Bush was resolute and stayed to finish the job, great sacrificing his popularity in the process. Time will tell if the cost in life and monetary expenditure will pay off in a lasting peace. The unknown factor is how much a role the war in Iraq played in occupying AQ over there rather than planning another attack on our shores. We'd have laughed if anyone had claimed on 15 September 2001 that we would make it to 2009 without another foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil. By that measure alone he is an unqualified success.

* On the economy the picture is obviously muddled. One can not take a snap shot of today's economic situation and say that tells the whole story. Bush came into office with the nation in recession following the bursting of the "dot com bubble." We were still in that recession when our nation was attacked in September 2001. The greatest damage of that attack was to our financial headquarters in New York City. Between aggressive interest rate cuts from the Fed and tax cuts aimed at stimulating growth, we emerged from the recession to enjoy several years of strong GNP growth. However, Bush is leaving office following a year of economic turmoil with the nation in the throws of another recession. We can argue forever what caused this mess. There is no doubt that changes to long standing lending practices are a major contributing factor. One element that seemingly is being ignored is the basic economic cycle. As the economy speeds up inventories grow and eventually inventory supplies exceed demand and orders slow or cease. So we had a slowing economy running right head first into a credit crunch caused by loose lending standards. The Bush administration decided aggressive action was necessary and took action which would normally be anathema to any conservative. They could be right, but I have a bad feeling about most of the actions taken. When government attempts to artificially control the basic economic cycle they usually just extend the downturn rather than letting the cycle play out in time. I have to give a grade of incomplete in this area.

* Pro-life. President Bush has been unabashedly a strong pro-life president. This is an area where his character was shown. It would have been easy to cave in to pressure to fund ESCR. Easy, but wrong. While a president can not no with certainty how judicial appointments will rule on issues of life, I'm very pleased with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Separately, while many on the right excoriated President Bush for his appointment (later withdrawn) of Harriet Miers, I actually think he knew her positions on these issues much better than he could know any other nominee's stance. Sadly, since Bush is being succeeded by the most pro-abortion president ever, Bush's legacy in this area will be short lived as we can expect any gains to be quickly reversed. UPDATE: In one of his final actions in the White House, President Bush on Thursday declared Jan. 18 to be “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.”

* President Bush's low popularity has been cited as some sort of overarching repudiation of every action he took. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because of the fall out from the 2000 election, he was never going to be popular with a majority of the left. Bush's rapid decline in popularity in his second term is directly attributable to losing support of his base which can be traced to a few areas of disagreement. Some lost patience with the president for being wimpy and failing to fight vociferously for his positions. Some could not stomach President Bush's amnesty heavy immigration plans. Fiscal conservatives had apoplexy over his actions to deal with the credit meltdown that bordered on nationalization. He could do a couple things in his last week in office to restore some conservative support. Pardon Scooter Libby and commute the sentences of the two immigration agents (Compean and Ramos). Clarice Feldman (who knows the ridiculous Plame business better than anyone) makes a strong case for the Libby pardon. The case for a pardon of the two immigration officers is less compelling. I can support a commutation of their sentence but not an outright pardon.

Here are some other positions on President Bush and his legacy:
Bush's Achievements - Ten things the president got right by Fred Barnes.
Bush: The Man The Media Missed by John Gizzi.
George W. Bush, Winner by Lisa Fabrizio.
History will treat Bush kindly by Joe Scarborough.
Don’t misunderestimate Bush’s record by Dan Coughlin
Bush's Legacy by Thomas Sowell
G. W. Bush, a President Worthy of the Office by Kyle-Ann Shiver
"I love President George W Bush." says the Dalai Lama

I'll leave this post on top until 21 January and continue to add links.



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