Let's Admit It: Bush Was a Failure
For the past eight years, conservatives have been fairly easy on President George W. Bush. They’ve complained a bit about his massive budgets, and have occasionally pointed out examples of his poor communication skills, but overall, the conservative movement and George Bush have gotten along. Bush has received more criticism than any president since Nixon—but the conservative movement has always been there to defend his record.
In less than two months, Bush will no longer be president. It’s time to take a realistic look at Bush’s presidency. There is no longer anything to be gained by denying that it has been anything but a failure.
The Iraq War will probably be remembered as the defining event of Bush’s presidency. The wisdom of going into Iraq is doubtful in hindsight. (Saddam Hussien had no WMDs, and no—or few—connections to terrorism) When one looks at the information Bush had at the time (which is, really, the only way to judge the decision), Bush looks a little better—but not much. Even the most worrisome pre-war intelligence did not show any immediate threat from Iraq—Iraq’s WMD program, if it had one, could only have been in the planning stages.
Many liberals have charged Bush with falsely linking Al-Qaeda and Saddam. He didn’t. But there can be little doubt that Bush used 9/11 as a reminder of what could happen should we not invade Iraq. And Iraq had nowhere near the capabilities to inflict another 9/11 on America.
The intelligence failure was excusable—it’s difficult to judge future threats. Bush’s handling of Iraq was not. Our initial strike was a clear victory. Things went downhill from there as Iraqi insurgents mastered guerrilla tactics. America spent a far-too-large amount of blood and treasure in Iraq, futilely attempting to destroy an enemy who could not—at least using the strategies we were using—be destroyed. It took Bush three years to realize that a change in strategy was needed. That amount of time was much too long.
Possibly even worse than Bush’s handling of Iraq has been his management of economic matters. When Bush took office, the national debt was around five trillion. Now, it’s nearly ten trillion. Bush’s domestic policies represented the greatest expansion of government since the Great Society. That is simply inexcusable, especially for a president who claims to support fiscal responsibility.
It isn’t fair to lay responsibility for the current financial crisis solely on Bush’s shoulders. But then, Jimmy Carter wasn’t wholly responsible for stagflation—but that hasn’t stopped people from blaming him. Bush deserves blame for our situation today, as his policies are largely responsible for it.
His administration (and the Republican-controlled Congress) pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accept risky mortgages. Under his watch, the Fed lowered interest rates far below market rates. (Granted, the Fed operates outside the executive branch—but it’s hard to imagine that Bush didn’t have influence). When Fannie’s and Freddie’s financial situation became obvious earlier this year, Bush’s Treasury Department did nothing productive.
Even if we assume that some sort of bailout was necessary to protect the lending markets, Bush still mishandled the issue (although to be fair, he had plenty of help from Congress). The bailout put far too much money in the hands of Henry Paulson, and Paulson’s allocation of it doesn’t seem to have helped the situation much. Paulson has spent about half of the $700 billion he got from Congress. It’s hard to see where spending another $350 billion will help. Bush tried to spend his way out of a crisis he helped cause. He failed.
Voters were right to reject Bush’s Republican party (although they probably jumped straight into the fire). There is nothing to be gained from defending Bush, or looking to his administration for guidance (unless, perhaps, as a guide of what not to do). As conservatives seek a new direction in which to take the party, they should simply admit Bush’s failure and look for a new national GOP leader.