It’s hard to believe, but we are almost a day away from the end of the Bush presidency. The natural inclination for pundits is to write their assessments of the outgoing administration. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the most glowing appraisal is that of the Anchoress. Chris Blosser links to George Weigel’s words of thanks, and adds some of his own, which of course leads to some gnashing of teeth in the comboxes by your usual suspects. Flopping Aces also has a good rundown.
My general rule is that it is impossible to accurately assess a presidency until we are at least a full decade removed from it. I wouldn’t even rank the Clinton presidency at this point. Not only are we too much caught up in the moment to fairly assess a president who is still warming the seat, but not nearly all of the information is available for a full evaluation. That said, I will offer a few scattered thoughts.
Personally speaking, I’ve had mixed emotions about George Bush since his name began to be widely mentioned as a presidential contender around the 1998 mid-term elections. I supported John McCain (I know) in the 2000 primary, and cast a vote more against Al Gore than for George Bush in the general election. But I quickly began to admire the man, and despite misgivings about certain aspects of his presidency, cast my only presidential vote (before or since) FOR a man in the 2004 general election on behalf of President Bush. Since then, I guess you could say those “mixed emotions” have returned.
There is much to admire about George Bush. From a character standpoint, he is top notch. He never allowed himself to be governed by the polls (perhaps he could have fared to do so a bit more). He always did what he honestly believed was best for this country. Pro-lifers have complained about his supposed lack of commitment to the cause, but it’s hard to think of a President who actually did more for the pro-life cause than President Bush. His Supreme Court appointments will most likely prove to be better than any of his Republican predecessors in the post-New Deal era. And while I sometimes cringe when I see people mention that there have been no terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11 – well, there have been no terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11. Make of that what you will.
His failings are obvious. Conservatives have every reason to be chagrined by his lack of conservative leadership. As Rush Limbaugh has pointed out countless times, he is not a movement conservative. His “big government” conservatism was not conservative in the traditional sense of the word. He failed to use the “bully pulpit” effectively. His stubborness was as much a failing as a virtue, as was his loyalty to his subordinates.
In the end, what strikes me most about the Bush presidency is how much it and the man himself are a reflection on America itself. His basic goodness, his idealism, his down-to-earth wisdom, and his sense of compassion are all reflective of the best of the American character. Bush’s failure, at least in terms of popularity, is a reflection of one of America’s less endearing characteristics. The very idealism that motivates Bush and motivates much of our country leads to disillusionment very swiftly when things don’t go right immediately. Americans expect everything, and they expect it now, and they expect it without experiencing a lot of pain or sacrifice. The same wild-eyed enthusiasm that prompted most Americans to support the Iraq war initially turned sour when Americans realized that there actually would be bloodshed. Instead of a bloodless war that ended with an Iraqi state full of blooming flowers and earthly grandeur, we got several thousand American soldiers killed, many thousands more innocent Iraqis killed (not to count thousands upon thousands of terrorists killed – that does not fit the established narrative), and a badly managed war that did not start going well until after most Americans had given up on it.
I have little doubt that history will treat Bush kindly. President Hopey Changey will turn out to provide a lot less hope and change than anticipated, and Bush won’t look so bad in hindsight. Whatever his failings, Americans always thought well of the man, and I’d expect an almost instant re-appreciation of George Bush the man. Heck, if we can speak well of an egotistical jerk like Carter after he left office, surely we can treat an actually decent human being well now that he is longer occupying the Oval Office.
I for one will actually miss the man. He’s been the President the entire time I’ve lived in the DC area, as I moved here halfway through the first year of Bush’s first term. A lot of my own life in that time has been tied to – perhaps indirectly – the life of the GWB presidency. I guess he’s been sort of a sountrack to my own life. So I’ll miss him, and not just because I don’t think the new guy will do any better. So, while there are many justified reasons to be displeased with him, I do wish him the best. And I thank him for everything.