How will the Bush Presidency be viewed in ten years time?

May 11, 2008

TPT evaluates the Bush Presidency

At the moment George W Bush is not viewed very highly by the American public. At the moment the latest estimates are that less than a third approve of the job that he is doing. Indeed, Pollster.com put hiis approval rating at a dismal 28.3%. His immigration proposals went down in the flames last summer and he is assailed by the right as a big spending liberal while two towns in Vermont voted to arrest him and Dick Cheney if they ever dare to enter the city limits. Some people even believe that the damage to his reputation extends beyond Bush himself with the respected commentator Professor Larry Sabato declaring, in an article last summer pondering possible Republican running mates, that ‘(Jeb Bush’s) last name is tarnished for a generation’. Democrats leaning pressure groups are running ads trying to portray John McCain as ‘four more years of Bush’. However, although it is unlikely that Bush’s reputation will have dramatically changed by November, although past President’s tend to a enjoy a small uplift in the last few weeks of their presidency, it is interesting to try to evaluate Bush’s administration over the past eight years.

Indeed, it is difficult to realise from contemporary views that venerated figures John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were, at various points in their careers, highly controversial figures who experienced bouts of unpopularity. One way to view the Presidents since 1928, which is popular with historians, is to divide them by tiers. Although it varies from historian to historian I would say that the first tier would includes presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman who had major achievements in both the domestic and foreign spheres and fundamentally changed the tone on the political culture. The second tier includes those who left their mark but either had enough flaws, such as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, to disbar themselves from the first tier or did not spend enough time in office, like JFK, to run up a solid list of achievements. The third tier is for those who were too controversial or bland for the second tier, such as Dwight Eisenhower, while the fourth and fifth tiers are for mediocrities (George HW Bush and Gerald Ford) and disasters (Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter) respectively.

So which tier does Bush fall into and how does he compare with Clinton? If you look at domestic achievements, then Clinton did have a tendency to focus on ‘small ball’ but he did succeed in chipping away at the more obvious problems, with action to reduce gun crime and expand access to healthcare for children. In contrast Bush managed to turn a large surplus into a deficit with tax cuts that were skewed towards the wealthy and his immigration package, although surprisingly sensible and progressive, folded in the face of Republican opposition. However, Bush did take the first tentative steps to raising educational standards, with the No Child Left Behind Act. In terms of upholding the integrity of the office and changing the tone of American politics, both Clinton and Bush failed. However, Bush’s problem was that he created were a culture where special interests and donors held sway and a slash and burn style of politics that focused on dog-whistles and smears.

However, in foreign policy the positions are reversed. Although the Clinton administration did eventually intervene in Bosnia and again in Kosovo, this was done at the behest of world leaders like Tony Blair and congressional leaders like Bob Dole. Although the Bush administration has been criticised for taking its world view from an episode of 24, most notoriously in terms of military interrogation, the Clinton administration was definitely guilty of buying into the West Wing view that all world problems can be solved with a bit of diplomacy and a few photo opportunities. Bill Clinton would probably have liberated Afghanistan and might even have attacked Saddam, but he would not have been able to face down the United Nations, nor would he have kept troops in Iraq for five years. Clinton also lacked Bush’s philosophy of spreading democracy, instead preferring to take his guidance from whatever book happened to be on his nightstand that evening, or whatever advisor had spoken to him last.

Ironically, it was Bush’’s one shout out to Clintonian policy making that nearly undid all the gains in Iraq, namely the decision to convene the Iraq Study Group. This decision made it appear as though he was not in control of foreign policy, and left many people (including myself) convinced that he was about to announce a withdrawal from Iraq after the mid term elections. Even this mistake, and the failure to send enough troops, was overcome with the surge strategy, which has succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Another irony is that, the unilateralist has probably done more to kick-start the process of making the UN a more effective and accountable organisation than Clinton the internationalist, although a lot more work needs to be done. So, to conclude, the Bush administration was definitely a middle tier presidency. In Bush’s case he has been ineffective in the domestic fields and has lowered the tone of politics. The decision decision to make promotion of democracy and human right an integral part of America’s relations with the rest of the world, even if it means unpopularity both domestic and abroad is commendable. So in that sense Bush’s presidency is a presidency redeemed, although hopefully his sucessor can raise the tone of politics.




  2. No worse than presidents like Mr. Carter. Funny how we forget history.

  3. Gallup already shows him as less popular than Carter!

  4. Gallop may take the pulse of the people today, but it does not write the history books 50 years from now.

  5. It was an interesting evaluation. Also fair. In my mind I give him high marks for the folliwng:

    1. For being decisive & not buckling under pressure.
    2. He bought in necon philosophy & went on to spread what the neocon agenda was based on unilaterlism if requireed because we were the sole superpower & if required we will take swift decisions if the allies were slow in coming.
    3. He kept the terrorist attacks after 9/11 away from our soil, where as the other liberal countries have not been able to do.So he made us safer.
    4. He took the war to somebody else’s soil and has been an ardent supporter of democracy far more than any others perhaps with the exception of FDR & Truman.
    5. Saddam may not have built & left a cache of WMDs but surely he was close enough to be able to make them unleash them on his neighbors. Had he been allowed to survive today’s democrats will sing a different song.
    6. Others may not like us but when they did we were good only to give them aid and build them up. So does International respect have much value.

    For all the reasons above, I hope history judges him a lot better than today’s polls.

    Sam Bansal

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