I've wanted to take the time to write about Bush's legacy but it is a very difficult subject to approach for many reasons. For one thing, in the last 8 years everything that could be said about Bush, good or bad, has been well represented online and offline. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about him, mostly bad, so escaping a partisan slant is mostly impossible. Most importantly there was no hope. It was a depressing subject to talk about. I think only now we can start to look objectively at Bush's legacy.
For context I should say I did not particularly care who won the 2000 election. I used it as an opportunity to cast a protest vote for Ralph Nader. Let there be no mistake -- I would never want to see Ralph Nader be President but I want to see strong third parties in this country. At the time I felt like voting for Nader was the best option. I've gained a lot of respect for Al Gore in the years since the 2000 election but at the time I was deeply disappointed in the way he ran his campaign and I was skeptical of his liberal credentials. As an extension to this I felt like Gore's campaign completely dropped the ball in FL when contesting the election.
So going in to Bush's Presidency I think I was not strongly opposed to him. I was certainly wiling to give him a chance. It may seem odd a liberal such as myself would be coming from that perspective but I believe in healthy power sharing. After 8 years of Clinton I was not completely opposed to someone who was supposedly a moderate Republican able to cross party lines.
Going back to 2000 it's important to remember Bush did run as a moderate. He talked a lot about fair immigration policies, improving the education system, and non-interventionist foreign policy. He talked about making the military more efficient and embracing our technical advantages. Most importantly he sold himself as being bi-partisan and willing to compromise.
All this is important to remember if you want to judge Bush's legacy. The platform he ran on in 2000 is very important in understanding the incredible disappointment at his administration. There is simply no easy way to reconcile Bush the candidate vs. Bush the President without coming to the conclusion that Bush and his handlers lied to the American people and misrepresented their candidate's true agenda. We know now that even before 2001 they were actively planning an attack on Iraq, actively pursing weapons systems that broke treaties with Russia, and planning massive tax cuts and dangerous deregulation. The war simply made Bush's true agenda easier to implement but it did not change the fact that his entire Presidency was built on a massive fraud. A carefully planned narrative of a fictitious person with no relationship to the man President Bush actually is or was.
It's probably not too surprising a liberal such as myself would be upset but what if you approach the Bush legacy as a Republican?
Do we have smaller government? Absolutely not. The government today is larger and more invasive than ever.
Did Bush do anything to stop abortion? Not at all. It's actually arguable that Bush's SC appointees are slaves to the system. I'm not sure they'll be so quick to vote against an over turning of Roe v. Wade when the courts have upheld it consistently for the last 30 years. It would certainly be a hypocritical act by those who represent themselves as having respect for the courts that came before them.
Immigration? Nothing has changed. Bush's own stance on immigration has been hugely inconsistent over the last 10 years.
Terrorism? We would have been better off fighting terrorism covertly where we could operate outside the law without a global spotlight on us. Bush overacted to 9/11 and gave the radical extremists exactly what they wanted. The whole point of terrorism is to make people fearful, paranoid, and willing to engage you. A covert war on terrorism would have been better for us all. Let me make it clear, I'm sure it would have included assassinations, torture, murdering civilians, spying, etc, etc. I just think we would have been wiser to do that stuff in dark alleys where maybe we could have made the terrorists look marginalized instead of empowering them through attention and recognition.
Economy: I don't know enough about it to comment at length but I think it's pretty clear Bush deserves the blame. Even if it were true that Democratic regulation of the mortgage industry may have created the problem it would have been Bush, and the Republican congress, who were tasked to fix the problem. His massive expansion of government spending certainly isn't something any Republican should be proud of.
Taxes: Besides cutting taxes Bush did nothing to really reform the tax code as he promised in 2000. All of his changes were temporary. 8 years later the Republican party has walked away with almost nothing of value being done on taxes in the Bush administration.
Guns: Again... what did he do for the Republican party on gun rights? I don't recall seeing any of Clinton's gun laws getting repealed under Bush.
Education: What happened to school vouchers? He ran hard on it and just never did it. I'm not a big believer in it myself but, if I were a Republican, I'd be wondering why nothing was ever done. No Child Left Behind has certainly not been much of a success either.
We probably won't understand the true scope of the damage Bush has done to this country for decades to come. Ultimately all we can hope for is this amazingly unique moment in history might set the stage for Obama to be one of the truly great Presidents. Sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom before anything will change. As the decades go on I would be willing to accept Bush's legacy of failure as a horrible, but ultimately beneficial, thing to this country. Maybe we had to be pushed to the brink before we could actually stop and re-evaluate where we are heading as a country. It took Hitler's extremism to bring Germany back from their history of militarism and aggression in Europe. Maybe we'll look back on the Bush Presidency as a similar moment where we all had to suffer so that we could wash our hands of the past and move in a new direction.