The left and the media and the ever-expanding blogosphere, and of course the Democrats, never permitted George Bush to recover from the circumstances of his 2000 election.
They deemed him unacceptable, accidental, illegitimate, likely a conniver in the national outcome -- and so took to lobbing their hateful commentaries one after another without end.
On issue after issue, they rejected his appeals for bipartisanship, especially in his second term. In his 2004 victory speech, Bush said:
"Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it....We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."
Yet from Social Security and judges to the surge and terror and continuation of the tax cuts, malign leftists dug in and sought to foil him on every front -- to deny him any victory, any success, anywhere.
"Malign" is too harsh? Consider:
Television, blogospheric, and newspaper commentaries slammed President Bush 24/7. Nicholson Baker wrote "Checkpoint," whose protagonists weigh whether to assassinate him. Twelve thousand San Franciscans signed a petition to rename an Oceanside sewage plant for him.
Hollywood went apoplectic, with Oliver Stone -- director of the detestable October-released flick "W" -- declaring: "We are a poorer and less secure nation for having elected (Bush) as our president. . . . America finds itself fighting unnecessary and costly wars and engaging in dangerous and counterproductive efforts to fight extremism. Even more significant and troubling, I believe, is his legacy of immorality."
Despite this vicious stream, George Bush persevered and prevailed. 9/11 changed him. Mistakes abounded, but no subsequent domestic jihadist strike ensued. As he noted at the Army War College last month, this staggering security success was "not a matter of luck." Against islamofascism pre-emption (described by the all-knowing as naive, idealistic and wrong) was -- as it remains -- the right policy for spreading liberty and democracy, particularly in a Middle East that boasts so little of either.
The enterprise in Iraq, following the surge, now approaches victory -- the great Osama himself having declared Iraq "the central front" in his war against the United States. Barack Obama repeatedly pronounced Iraq a distraction and -- from beginning to end -- a mistake. Yet a resolute Bush was true to his values, to his nation, and to mankind's ultimate cause. Last month he told The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel that liberty can be extended beyond Iraq as long as America continues to believe "in the universality of freedom."
His early tax cuts helped the country out of the recession Bill Clinton left him. The budget exploded, as did deficits -- largely a result of expanded defense spending for the war on terror. (Said Bush in the Strassel interview: "I refused to compromise on the military" -- for which thank heaven, given that the first obligation of every administration is the people's protection.)
Bush was correct about Social Security, despite a spineless, risk-averse Congress unwilling to get its game together. While vastly more nominations would have been better, he managed against obstructionist Senate Democrats to gain approval of 61 federal appellate judges (compare Clinton's 65), now constituting majorities on 10 of the 13 appellate courts. And he gave us the estimable Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito.
Yes, spending blew out of control -- albeit with congressional concurrence. Problems plagued the war's conduct in Iraq. Post-Katrina New Orleans was mishandled. Still, Bush can boast hefty tax cuts, major assistance for HIV-infected areas of Africa, significant gains in health care and in education accountability, a multi-ethnic Cabinet (including the first two African-American secretaries of state), and massive improvements from surveillance to strategic policy.
We invest our presidents with greatly too many expectations. It happened with George Bush and his predecessors, as it is happening with Barack Obama -- the latest secular savior. Few mortals can deliver on more than a small percentage of their promises and hopes.
Yet Bush carried two added burdens: (1) difficulty in articulating his goals and (2) relentless hammering by leftists hostile to his values and his success. Then, perceiving him harmful to the Republican brand, many conservatives abandoned him as well. Still and all, his favorable ratings never descended to the ratings for Congress -- particularly the Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
George Bush a perfect president? Hardly. The worst president of the past half-century, as too many with ideological axes to grind would have us believe? Compare, oh, Carter and Clinton. A more prudent categorization: The most consequential president since Reagan.
To those cognoscenti who argue such an appraisal is preposterous, remind them of this: The most recent conventional wisdom -- the consensus of the best minds and analysts -- was (remember?) that because the fundamentals were so sound the stock market could not crash, the economy could not possibly collapse.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson -- a man of laconic, perceptive humor -- noted that "those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic." George Bush concludes his presidency with abundant accomplishments, not least a safer nation -- and still, despite a tsunami of hateful coverage, commendably humble. When the tumult and the shouting die, an appreciative people would escort him down to robust and lingering applause.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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