Just How the Hell Do You Sum Up George W. Bush's Presidency?


Reason Contributing Editor and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carolyn Lochhead tiptoes through the disaster that was the George W. Bush presidency in a long, comprehensive summary of the past eight years or thereabouts. Snippets:

Historians will suspend immediate judgment. All modern presidents leave office sullied, yet many, like Harry Truman, Bill Clinton and even Jimmy Carter, have had their reputations restored with time. But from the vista of now, the nation's 43rd president risks joining the likes of Franklin Pierce, his own distant relative, as among the nation's worst presidents, harshly judged in their day and never bathed in the warm afterglow of hindsight.

Bush leaves to his successor two unfinished wars, Osama bin Laden living in an unstable Pakistan, a U.S. reputation soiled by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and torture, a deep recession and what is sure to be the first $1 trillion-plus deficit. In short, a gigantic mess, all the bigger for the peace, prosperity and black ink he inherited….

Bush both grew the government and gave laissez-faire a bad name, overseeing a rash of corporate scandals in 2002 and the housing meltdown. The financial wreckage has many fathers, but Bush, the first MBA president, stands among them, failing to restrain the liquidity bubble as it ballooned and asking for $700 billion to rescue banks as it burst. The GOP is fractured and adrift….

The plan for a swift victory and quick exit [in Iraq] turned into a bungled and bloody occupation that has left roughly 4,800 U.S. troops dead, 33,000 Americans wounded, as well as thousands of contractors and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted longer than World War II and cost 50 percent more than Vietnam: $904 billion since 2001, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That ultimately could rise above $2 trillion, including decades of care for wounded veterans, estimated as high as $65 billion alone. Bush economic chief Lawrence Lindsay was fired for saying publicly that the Iraq war could cost $200 billion….

Conditions are worse now than when Truman left office, said Sean Theriault, a political scientist at the University of Texas. "The objective standards by which we can evaluate the presidency are just so bad. The economy is truly in tatters, and I don't think any Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, can dispute that. When Bill Clinton left office you could argue that Americans were generally pleased, but people thought he wasn't a beacon of integrity. But we can't have an argument about the success of Bush's economic policies."

The whole story, well worth reading, is online here.