Friday, April 26, 2013

Yes, George W. Bush Was a Terrible President, And Some Give Him Credit Just Because He Made Decisions?

More than three years still remained in George W. Bush’s presidency when it had already collapsed by the end of 2005. The Bush revisionism industry has thus enjoyed an unusually long period of time in which to plan out its action and predict their man’s comeback as a misunderstood, unduly maligned and — dare they say it? — successful president. The opening of the Bush museum today has opened up a flood of pent-up Bush revisionism.

It is worth noting that Bush did some good things during his presidency. Some of these received due credit at the time (his education reform, his support for treating disease in Africa). Others received vastly disproportionate credit at the time owing to what one might call the soft bigotry of low expectations (his post-9/11 speeches, which amounted to telling a unified, leadership-craving country that Al Qaeda is bad.)

It is also true that Bush’s party unfortunately decided, after his presidency, that he failed primarily by being too moderate, too compassionate, and too bipartisan, and moved even further right since, making Bush look retrospectively sane. At the time, some of us simply took for granted Bush’s choices to avoid anti-Muslim bigotry and not propose enormous cuts to government programs for the sickest and most vulnerable Americans. By the standards of the present-day GOP, these decisions make Bush look fair-minded and even statesmanlike.

But the Bush revisionist project has far more ambitious aims than to merely salvage a few specks of decency from the ruins. It aims for a wholesale restoration, both characterologically and substantively.

Keith Hennessey, a former Bush aide, has written a long, wounded attack on those of us who doubt the intellectual faculties of the 43rd president, under the provocative headline “George W. Bush is smarter than you.” The headline is not an exaggeration. Hennessey really means it:

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