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As we move within 24 hours of inaugurating a new president, most of America’s attention is focused on the future, with a great many Americans hopeful about Barack Obama and his coming presidency. But what about the guy packing up the White House? Does he deserve more than a passing goodbye after eight years?

Bush is leaving office with record low approval ratings. And, realistically, for a president who has mismanaged two wars, incompetently handled the response to Hurricane Katrina and, finally, presided over the largest economic disaster since the Great Depression, it’s surprising as many as 22% of Americans consider his presidency a good one.

What is most fascinating (and disappointing) about Bush is not the trouble he caused so much as his inability to react competently to the trouble caused by others. He had little opportunity to prevent 9/11. He doesn’t control where hurricanes land. And he didn’t sell any subprime mortgages. The triumvirate of crises faced by Bush could and probably would have happened under a President Gore or a President Kerry (or a President McCain, for that matter). And those men may have failed in their own ways. But no president gets to take a pass because the challenges they faced were exceptional or because others may have been equally inept.

Bush leaves office as a perceived failure because he was an average man in an era when we needed a great man. Too often he chose partisanship and cronyism over leadership and experience. Too often he substituted platitudes for solutions. And, most disastrously, he proved too susceptible to the siren songs of ideology, trusting in intractable advisors who thought they knew better than anyone else, the evidence be damned.

The one great positive that can be said of the Bush presidency is that we suffered no attacks on American soil after 9/11. This is no small thing and no coincidence. The problem is, did we overreach in our quest for security? Bush showed, time and again, a predilection towards authoritarianism when dealing with potential threats. That’s not to say he was authoritarian, but that’s the direction he reached, expanding executive powers to new levels while stripping away checks and balances. He may have prevented further attacks, but did the cost to our freedom have to be so great? That is a question for historians, I believe. But from the vantage point of the present, I am disturbed by the new governmental powers implemented under Bush’s watch.

Given the circumstances faced in the last eight years, I believe many a man or woman would have failed as our president. But Bush’s failures are not merely a matter of circumstance. They are a result of his own personal deficiencies and his inability to lead all of us (rather than only some of us) during difficult times. I do not know how history will remember him. But I think it’s appropriate he leaves office with such a low approval rating.

8 COMMENTS

  1. George W Bush will most be remembered for opportunities lost. A president is defined by how he handles a crisis and with the exception of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 he was an utter failure in practically everything he touched.

    He not only failied to live up to the challenges of the job, 9/11 presented him with an unprecedented popularity and a country–a world–united to support him.

    Instead of being a bold visionary, he became an autocratic partisan. He could have done so many great things with the political capital and almost universal support from countries around the world, but showed himself to be a selfish, intellectually incurious son of a rich guy.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, George.

  2. I think you (and most everybody) missed the big point. The Bush presidency was a huge success for the people it was supposed to benefit. He handed out untold billions to “the haves and the have mores” or as he called them, his base. The war was always primarily about funnelling huge amounts of money into his buddies’ pockets….period. The bailout was the same. The medicare plan, no child left behind, oil leases, tax cuts…. and on and on, all about transferring huge piles of dough out of the treasury into republicans pockets….period. Bush leaves office as a resounding success. Mission accomplished, good job George.

  3. The war was always primarily about funnelling huge amounts of money into his buddies’ pockets….period.

    Don’t forget that he had to murder 3000 Americans in controlled demolitions and blame it on terrorists in order to gain the political capital to launch the war. Its all one big conspiracy…period.

  4. I stopped reading when I saw this “largest economic disaster since the Great Depression”. If you are going to blog please get your facts straight.

  5. As always Jimmy, you twist words into a moronic strawman. Iraq and 9-11 had nothing whatsoever to do with each other. No conspiracy, just fact. Of course you and facts have only the most casual relationship so…. Tell you what, you just keep on spewing forth meaningless garbage about how W was one of the greatest presidents ever and I’ll stay here in reality.

  6. I just think at some point david, you may need to realize that the world is a little more complicated that evil white men who deliberately cause misery and destruction solely for the purpose of stealing wealth for themselves and their friends.

    I know what I just said sounds insane, but just realize that your man in now “The Man,” and I am the dissenter. Will you be burning effigies of Obama at the WTO meeting in 2015, after seeing the largest expansion of Global Capitalism in the history of the world?

  7. Jimmy, unlike you, I am able to see the world beyond black and white. Just because I am smart enough to see that the the scum you elected and would gladly vote for again was a complete failure doesn’t mean I blindly worship the new scum. Not everyone is a complete partisan Jimmy. Some of us can actually think for ourselves instead of blindly swallowing whatever the party tells us. Tell me, did Bush do a good job? Yet you would gladly re-elect him. Kindly stop projecting your incredible spineless sheeplike qualities onto the rest of us.

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