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16/04/2013 | George W Bush: was he really that bad?

Alex Spillius

More than four years after George W Bush left the White House, his record is being reassessed and throws up similarities with Barack Obama, writes Alex Spillius


It is George W Bush’s particular achievement to be disliked by both sides in American politics.

Democrats of course excoriate the damage done to the budget by waging two wars while cutting taxes, his conduct after Hurricane Katrina and his shoot from the hip style, not to mention that fact that he presided over the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

His own Republican party utterly rejected him during the 2012 campaign. Tea Party types saw him as a big-spender guilty of extending federal government, while few who once stood with him were prepared to defend his military achievements.

But presidents tend to look better, or at least different, from a distance, and with the opening of his presidential centre in Texas, there are suggestions that Bush the younger may be more fondly remembered than was thought possible when he left the White House in January 2009 as the most unpopular president in living memory.

He was certainly more socially liberal than his critics give him credit for. No Child Left Behind, whatever its faults and funding, was a centralised attempt to raise educational standards across the board.

A new prescription drug benefit scheme may have been expensive (though Bush himself argues its cost has been exaggerated) but its aim was to make medicines more affordable for the elderly.

Bush failed in his most ambitious social reform of immigration law, but he was defeated primarily by the Right of his party, not the Democrats.

The Obama administration may blame Bush for the crippled economy it inherited, but it has for the most part been unable to rescind his tax cuts. For the time being, the tax argument has been won by conservatives. Liberals may have berated Bush for the security policies of his “war on terror”, but they have been continued and in some regards expanded by President Obama.

Writing in the Washington Post recently, Jennifer Rubin argued that “Bush seems to be a more accomplished Republican figure in the Obama era”, while summarising his successes.

Bush himself has told the Dallas Morning News, in an exclusive interview, that he still stands for the “compassionate conservatism” that he ran on in 2000.

“I’m comfortable with what I did,” he said. “I’m comfortable with who I am.”

On the debit side, the list remains heavy. His tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq produced budget deficits, which were compounded by a recession and economic stimulus spending. Bush inherited a $5.7 trillion debt, which became a $10.6 trillion debt, and bequeathed his successor an economy on the verge of collapse.

Obama duly expanded health care and stimulus spending, endured a second recession, deepening the debt still further.

As points out, both presidents are to blame for taking the debt to record levels.

Indeed in Washington they both occupy the middle ground, where most presidents find themselves.

They could not be more different in terms of background and character; they are far apart on tax, healthcare and gun control. Obama has ended both Bush’s wars.

But both presidents found themselves in charge of a country in gentle decline without an overpowering vision of how to reverse that process.

Both have been frustrated by the mud-slinging intransigence in Washington, and a sense that it is all but impossible to get big business done. Six months after his re-election, Obama has yet to table legislation on immigration reform. Gun control, reforming a Byzantine tax code, and reforming Social Security (another Bush failure) remain in his in-tray.

We may yet be too close to Bush’s presidency to see this clearly, but in the future he and his successor could be seen as having as much in common than not.

Telegraph (Reino Unido)


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