Vail Daily column: W.’s legacy not so tarnished after all
George W. Bush has been thoroughly attacked by critics on both the left and the right since he left office more than four years ago.
Since he’s done little to directly challenge these frequently unjustified attacks, for a while it seemed as though his opponents would be left free to revise history and tarnish his legacy permanently. However, both the passage of time and the opening of the Bush Presidential Center have prompted many to rethink our 43rd president.
The commonly touted “low points” of his tenure include a difficult war in Iraq, controversial counter-terrorism measures (including indefinite detention, Guantanamo Bay, drone warfare, the Patriot Act, etc.), a hampered disaster response to Hurricane Katrina, and the recession of 2008.
That said, the controversial troop surge of 2007-08 reversed Iraq’s downward spiral toward civil war, forcing many to acknowledge its success and leaving many to wonder if a much larger force from the very beginning (which would have inevitably been called imperialist) would have secured a peaceful Iraq in 2003.
Bush’s counter-terrorism policies have now been vindicated by their greatest critic, President Barack Obama, who has since embraced nearly every one of them (and significantly expanded the use of targeted assassination).
Retrospective examination reveals that the Bush response to Katrina in 2005 was swift and effective, but totally hindered by the governor of Louisiana, without whose permission federal authority in restoring order was limited by law. In the end, the administration was forced to work around the governor’s politically motivated objections, but had already lost critical time in saving lives.
The economic recession of 2008 was clearly years in the making, owing itself to irresponsible mandates on loan providers and lax regulation of the financial industry, along with the natural boom and bust patterns of a free market economy. However, those policies had been in place for decades, with the same regulations existing under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. As controversial as it was, the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) saved America’s banks and prevented the recession from becoming a depression. The fact that the recession continues to haunt the American economy even after four years of Democratic leadership and policy indicates that the recession had non-partisan roots.
History is also beginning to recognize the Bush administration’s high points. A brilliantly moderate compromise in 2001 that provided the first ever federal funds for stem cell research while also protecting the sanctity of human life was one of them. Medicare Part D, which for the first time provided assistance to seniors in the purchase of often expensive prescription drugs, received support on both sides of the aisle and was tainted only by the congressionally imposed limitations on competition, which increased the costs of the program.
The No Child Left Behind Act was another policy with bipartisan support that combined strict academic standards with generous funding and a sensible approach to under-performing schools. Within a few years the effects of the act were beginning to show, particularly in boosting test scores in low income, minority school districts.
Bush made serious attempts at compromise and reform on both Social Security and immigration, and though both liberal and conservative extremists prevented them from being fully realized, Bush put down the groundwork for future reform.
Despite its controversies, the Bush counter-terrorism effort and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security have prevented a repeat of a large scale terrorist attack on American soil, and has addressed thousands of smaller threats.
Regardless of your feelings on the war, Iraq and Afghanistan were both liberated from highly oppressive, genocidal regimes and have been given a serious opportunity to achieve democratic government.
Bush’s most frequently overlooked triumph was his African aid program, which among other successes, saved tens of millions of lives from AIDS/HIV.
In an interview with USA Today, Bush said, “There’s no need to defend myself. I did what I did, and ultimately history will judge.”
It would appear that history is judging well.
Michael Cartier is from Eagle-Vail and is graduating this year with an MA History-Honors from the University of St. Andrews UK. He was among 20 selected by Fox News and American University to cover the 2008 presidential race for which they won the Regional Murrow Award. He is newly married and will be seeking employment this summer upon his return to Colorado. He can be reached at Cartier2028@ gmail.com