But there is another part of his domestic record that needs to be taken into account to get a true measure of his presidency thus far -- initiatives his critics rarely mention when they charge he has betrayed conservative principles. The biggest fiscal achievement of his presidency is the $1.7 trillion in tax cuts that helped the U.S. economy overcome the blows inflicted by the 9/11 attacks, the corporate accounting scandals and Hurricane Katrina.
Those tax cuts are conservative free-market economics at its best, and they are the reason why our economy remains -- through wars and numerous domestic disasters -- the strongest and most affluent in the world.
No conservative reform is bigger than the idea of privatizing Social Security, a revolutionary notion that most Republican leaders were afraid to embrace. Bush not only proposed it but he ran for president on its merits and traveled around the country arguing for its implementation.
That he did not succeed is beside the point. He was willing to spend a lot of his political capital for a gigantic conservative idea: freeing workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds to create wealth. It's unlikely Bush can resurrect his proposal in the next two years, but he has boldly opened a path for a future president to follow and deserves great credit for the boldness of his attempt to bring down the last pillar of the New Deal welfare state.
Even his prescription-drug program, which expanded entitlements at a time when they are going through the roof, has turned out to be far less expensive than its critics forecast. Democrats and Republicans wanted something bigger and costlier and would have gotten it, too, but Bush won a more limited and price-competitive alternative.
Presidents never do everything we want them to, and Bush is no exception. But on some of the biggest ideas of conservative orthodoxy he has been willing to enter the arena, take some big risks and fight some big battles, winning some and losing others.
Win or lose, these initiatives need to be added to the scorecard when we measure his presidency against all of the others.