Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Judging Bush

Last week's opening of George W. Bush's Presidential Library had many reassessing his presidency. It is really too early to do this. Most of the people writing were still suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Regardless, four years and 100 days have given some perspective. We can see how Bush's policies actually played out and which of them the Obama Administration continued. This is important because it removes the "if you only knew what I knew" problem that most critics have.

Bush looks particularly good when compared to his successor in many areas. The first of these is politics. The Bush years were marked by strident political division. The Left outright hated him. Despite this, all of his major achievements were done with bipartisan support. Even after losing both houses of Congress in 2006, he still managed to piece together a working majority. Even when the Republicans controlled the Senate, they never had more than 51 votes. In contrast, President Obama needs 60 Senate votes to pass anything important.

The invasion of Iraq may have been a mistake but it must be taken in context. We had been in open hostilities with Iraq for a decade prior to the invasion. Saddam may not have been making WMDs but he had every intention of doing so as soon as the sanctions were lifted and it was only a matter of time before that happened. Look at our powerlessness to stop North Korea and Iran and you can see where Iraq would have been by now.

You should also look at Syria to see what might have happened in Iraq if we had not invaded. They have tens of thousands of dead, a million refugees, and a rebellion that is increasingly made of Islamic fundamentalists.

Bush is often blamed for the Great Recession. This was a bipartisan problem with roots going back to the Clinton administration. The Bush administration pushed for reforms that would have lessened the impact of the crash but these were blocked by prominent Democrats.

Bush's response to the crash must also be taken into account. Economists agree that he saved the world's economy. Technically, the recession ended before Obama's stimulus went into effect.

It is often said that Bush took a surplus and turned it into a deficit. Actually the Internet Bubble created the surplus and the recession caused by it bursting created the deficit. Bush did have some significant deficits but they peaked with the recession and were declining until the crash in 2007. In contrast, Obama turned the emergency stimulus into the new baseline. His deficits are three times Bush's and that's with a declining military presence in war zones.

Bush received a lot of blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina. This was undeserved. He was even blamed for the levies flooding (because he caused global warming, because money allocated for levee maintenance went to pay for troops, or because he ordered the levees to be dynamited). This must be compared with the response to Hurricane Sandy - a much smaller storm. Bush's response looks fairly good by this measure.

Bush's Medicare Drug Plan was not properly funded but it ended up costing a fraction of what was projected. In contrast, Obamacare was supposed to be funded but new projections show it will be much more costly than projected.

The left could never utter the words "Bush tax cuts" without adding "for the rich" but Obama signed a measure continuing 99% of the cuts. These tax cuts were blamed for the growing divide between the rich and poor but that divide has widened during the Obama years.

In all, Bush looks pretty good compared with his successor.

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