Steve Chapman

Results: Last year was our bloodiest yet in Afghanistan; Hamid Karzai's government controls only a third of the country; we are being forced to increase our troop presence; and al-Qaida is thriving just over the Pakistan border. Oh, one more thing: Osama bin Laden has yet to be taken, dead or alive.

The Budget. Bush represented the alleged party of small government, yet under him, federal outlays exploded. During his presidency, spending was up by 70 percent, more than double the increase under Bill Clinton. When Bush arrived, the federal government was running surpluses. Since then -- not counting the horrendously expensive financial bailout -- the national debt has nearly doubled. You can't blame Congress for all this: Bush was the first president in 176 years to go an entire term without vetoing a single piece of legislation.

Executive power. Conservatives are supposed to believe in strict limits on government power, but Bush pushed incessantly to expand the prerogatives of the president. He asserted the right to ignore laws banning torture and restricting wiretapping. The Supreme Court found that his imprisonment of captives at Guantanamo Bay violated the Constitution by denying them the right to challenge their detention in court.

Jack Goldsmith, a conservative legal scholar who held high positions in Bush's Justice and Defense departments, has faulted Bush for "his administration's strange and unattractive views of presidential power." What is needed, he wrote in "The Terror Presidency," are leaders "with a commitment to the consent of the governed, who have checks and balances stitched into their breasts." Which Bush was not.

All these blunders were not accidental. They were the product of this administration's peculiar combination of arrogance, power lust and incompetence.

Those qualities have not abated. Bush leaves us with the rule of law in shreds, the budget out of control, two interminable wars and the public yearning for change. But to him, it's all good.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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