The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush Re-examined

Stephen Rockwell • 29 April 2018
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The death of Barbara Bush last week in many ways completed the rehabilitation of George W. Bush in our politics.  The nation mourned with him and his family as we lost one of the nation's matriarchs, a Republican woman who had no problem calling out Donald's Trump odious behavior as a candidate and President and served as only the second woman married to and the mother of US Presidents.  

The long road back for Dubya's reputation started with the media blitz surrounding his book of paintings about a year ago.  Apparently, the former President fills much of his post-Presidency time painting portraits.   He left office with an approval rating of 28%, the same approval rating that Sarah Palin had during her run for Vice-Presidency and almost assuredly Trump will have by the end of his time in Washington.  One question for another time is who is this slice of America who can see past every possible failure that a leader can make and still support a conservative leader?   

Bush's reputation is clearly the primary benefactor of having such a contemptible character as the Republican following him in the White House.  Beyond the book tour, Bush has made certain statements indirectly attacking Trump's corrosive behavior to our institutions and political norms and challenged his treatment of Putin and Russia.  The man whose career in politics contains its fair share of linguistic flubs is now seen as a voice of reason.

All of this welcoming back into the mainstream of our politics has come way too easy for Bush after his time in the wilderness.  Both the man and the media have done no reckoning of his colossal failures as President and the outright moral evil of pursuing a war of choice that killed hundreds of thousands of people.  

It is hard to understate the long-term political damage the policy ramifications and long-term health of our political system that Trump is inflicting on us through his dismantling of our institutions and basic societal norms, but a few points of comparison might remind us that Bush in fact was not much better.  Indeed in many ways, he was worse than Trump has been to this point:

  • Trump has not started a pre-emptive war.  Trump has continued his vocal opposition against the Iraq War.  While there was some early flip-flopping, he has been fairly consistently against the war.  I'm not sure whether he's convinced his base (which largely used to be Dubya's base) whether the Iraq War was a mistake, but the fact he got elected as Republican as an opponent to the war is remarkable.  Trump's critique about the lives and treasure lost for very little gain is fairly accurate.  
  • Scapegoating the other.  Trump using immigrants as scapegoats to drive voter turnout was borrowed from Bush's ballot initiatives against gay civil rights.  Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove worked to ensure anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were active in a number of states in 2004.  Just like Trump attacked immigrants, Bush attacked gay and lesbians for political victory.
  • Lying = Swiftboating.  Trump's lying about opponents during the campaign and as President is in line with the Swift Boating of John Kerry.  Trump famously said he preferred the soldiers who didn't get captured in speaking terribly of war hero John McCain, but Bush did pretty much the same if not worse to John Kerry during the 2004 campaign challenging Kerry's war heroics in a detestable manner.  
  • Bush tanked the economy, Trump hasn't, yet. Both men gave tax cuts to rich people who didn't ask for them and certainly don't need them creating greater imbalance in the economy.  Ultimately, deregulation and the encouragement of unfettered greed and its attendant inequality led to the collapse of the economy the greatest single threat to our economic well being, the Great Recession.  Trump is using the same failed policies so he may get us to the point of economic calamity, but he hasn't, yet.  
  • The largest foreign attack on US soil happened on Bush's watch.  While his early response to the tremendous tragedy of 9-11 was solid, it was cleary he was largely asleep at the wheel in early 2001 as the intelligence agencies were clearly trying to get his attention. He turned the goodwill of togetherness after 9-11 into a crusade to out Sadaam Hussein who had nothing to do with terrorism in the US.  

Bush recounted a story that in her final days, Barbara Bush joked with her son a few days before her passing.  "The doctor came in and she turned to the doctor and said, 'You want to know why George W. is the way he is?' And the doctor looked somewhat surprised. And she said, 'because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.'"  A joke for sure, but it may have stung Bush just a little in that there may be a nugget of truth.  Bush presided over a failed Presidency.  Of this, there can be no doubt.  Hd needs to stop receiving free passes from the media and all of us for his terrible failures as a leader. Re-entry into our civic life should require an apology from the man and an advocacy amongst his old base not only against Trump but against some of the same policies that lead to Dubya's failures