Monday, January 12, 2009

Bush's Place in History

Jacob Weisberg at Slate comes not to praise George W but to bury him, saying invading Iraq, the global war on terror, and the current financial mess are his three worst decisions but that we don't know that much about the inner workings of the administration. This isn't an outlier--there seems to be general agreement Bush is a bad President, and always will be such.

Not that, as a firm Democrat, I particularly like GWB, but I've lived too long to agree. Harry Truman left office with terrible ratings, but he's now very highly regarded, so things can change. A more recent example: Mr. Greenspan retired not so long ago with high praise from everyone, except for a few who thought he might have followed his irrational exuberance speech in the 1990's with some cold water on the high tech bubble. Now he's being blamed for the current mess.

The reputations of many of our presidents have fluctuated over the years. I'd suggest Bush's reputation will improve if:
  • there is a significant terror attack on US soil (I don't think it will occur)
  • Afghanistan stabilizes (in my view Bush's failure to get an exit strategy there is his worst failing)
  • Iraq muddles through (the Korean "police action" was a big deal in Truman's rep as left, but now it looks okay). If 30 years from now Iraq is where South Korea is now, Bush will benefit, regardless of how flawed his administration was in (not) planning for the post-war.
  • things like No Child Left Behind, the AIDS initiative in Africa, Medicare drug benefits, or other initiatives became seen as significant milestones. (Truman's integration of the armed forces seems larger today than it did then; Ike's interstate highways loom larger today than they seemed in 1960.)
Conversely, I can't imagine much which would hurt his reputation more than it is now.

Bottomline--he doesn't have anywhere to go but up.

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