JORDAN T. CHESTER
With the opening of the Bush presidential library in Texas, the presidency of George W. Bush has been revisited by the media. According to observers of politics in the U.S., George W. Bush was one of the worst presidents in American history.
Independents disliked much of his second term agenda. Even Republicans are weary of some of Bush’s policies – mainly relating to economic issues and fiscal policy. But, how will history judge President Bush?
I think that history will remember President Bush as a good president, but not a great one.
Successful presidents could point to signature accomplishments and Bush has quite a few. When I say accomplishments, I do not mean to say things that went well. By accomplishments, I mean things that got through Congress and were made into laws – they can be good or bad.
During his first term, President Bush could point to tax cuts, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D as signature accomplishments. To date, all of these policies remain in effect in some way, shape, or form.
Bush’s tax cuts were the largest in a generation, and his reforms to education and Medicare were historic since they changed the landscape of both public education and Medicare.
Another reason President Bush will be considered a good president is simply because of who he is as a person. Despite a majority not supporting his policies, both today or when he was president, people like George W. Bush are seen as someone that Americans could hang out with.
Bush will also be considered a good president by history because historians will note that he was handed a very difficult situation. He was elected during a time of peace and prosperity but, just nine months later, the U.S. found itself in war and a recession following the worst attack on U.S. soil, as well as a dot-com bubble that burst.
History will likely see that Bush acted decisively and with purpose. However, history will not judge him as a great president for other reasons.
Despite his first-term policy successes on a bi-partisan basis, President Bush became a polarizing figure during the 2004 campaign season and throughout his second term.
As Americans became increasingly skeptical of the war in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Americans became skeptical of the president. This skepticism, along with disputes between Bush and Democrats over an economic recovery, led the country to become divided over Bush’s presidential performance.
On Election Day in 2004, President Bush won just 51 percent of the popular vote. The two most recent incumbent presidents to win re-election won by far more comfortable margins: Bill Clinton won by a nine percent margin in 1996 and Ronald Reagan won by an 18 point margin in 1984.
While Bush was the first presidential candidate since his father in 1988 to win a popular majority (more than 50 percent of the vote) – and he did win by a more comfortable margin than he did in 2000 – his margin of victory was quite disappointing for an incumbent.
Following the 2004 election, the war in Iraq became less popular. Bush failed to get comprehensive immigration and social security reforms passed. His response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was seen as lackluster, and he even admitted that.
Democrats won back a congressional majority for the first time in 12 years in 2006 and Bush’s approval ratings dipped below 35 percent.
By 2008, Bush became extremely unpopular, though he was able to respond to the economic collapse of 2008 with bi-partisan support, as the administration’s bailouts passed the Democratic Congress.
So, when history judges President Bush, future Americans will likely believe he was decisive and perhaps likable, but his policies will be seen as polarizing and unpopular.