Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Last Eight Years, Part 1

Originally posted on on December 16th, 2008

On January 20th, Senator Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, making the end of two crucial eras in American political history, the Reagan Revolution and its daffy offspring, the Bush Administration. The presidency of George W. Bush was one of the polarizing in American history, derided for being too partisan and imperialistic, though his dwindling number of supporters and apologists would suggest a growing political bias in the media and that Bush did the best he could leading the country in the wake of several unfortunate and devastating events. Considering that, what is George Walker Bush's place in history?

Let's begin with the obvious: Bush is not the worst president we've ever had. He wasn't a drunken figurehead like Franklin Pierce, a lightning rod of corruption and moral ambiguity like Warren G. Harding, or brought our country to the brink of Civil War like James Buchanan. On the other hand, Bush might be our worst re-elected president; he was probably just as polarizing and partisan as fellow two-termer Richard Nixon, but with a more efficient crew of spin doctors and public relations experts. As mouthpieces to the world, Dana Perino and Scott McClellan have nothing on Ron Ziegler.

In some ways, George W. Bush is the mirror image of Lyndon Baines Johnson, another president who rose to the occasion in the wake of a national tragedy. Like Dubya, LBJ began his second term (or first elected term, if you will) with his party in control of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. Where Johnson had his Great Society initiatives, Bush had the Patriot Act. Also like our 43rd president, Johnson championed an unpopular war and left office villified by his own party in doing so. Where Bush limped Reaganomics along until it was beaten like a dead horse, Johnson was the last true New Deal Democrat, making the wayward assumption that Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era policies would still work thirty years after the fact.

Alas, that's where the comparisions end. LBJ died less than four years after leaving office, a broken and defeated man in his time but now regarded as a champion for civil rights and social security. The progressive acts that were instigated by his slain predecessor John F. Kennedy and completed by Johnson himself was enough to push the old Texan somewhere in the middle of the pantheon, his strengths and weaknesses almost cancelling each other out. It's tough to say what President Bush's saving grace will be; No Child Left Behind comes close, but this noble effort at restructuring our education system could use retooling.

Instead, the Bush Presidency will be remembered most for the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq. Where usurping and removing the Taliban from Afghanistan was a justified reaction to the 9/11 tragedy, Operation Enduring Freedom was more of a knee-jerk reaction built along a string of unseemly assumptions. Saddam Hussein had every right to be removed from power, but his downfall could've waited until after the assault in Afghanistan was completed and Osama bin Laden was captured and detained. Hussein has been dead two years now, but bin Laden is (presumably) alive and well and still unpunished for his actions. Five years since his capture, Hussein's trial and execution was a hollow victory overshadowed by President Bush's most egregious mistake, letting the most powerful terrorist in the world get off scot-free for the eerily precise execution of more than 3,000 innocent Americans.

On Tuesday, I'll resume this commentary by looking at President Bush's domestic policies.

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