Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grading President George W. Bush

Now that the Bush administration is drawing to a close, it would be tempting to simple pile on. Clearly, the nation faces a number of difficult problems: a recessive economy and two wars for starters. A growing number of columnists and blogs have begun to ask the question: Is George W. Bush the worst president ever? If you were born after 1980, it's probably an easy answer. Otherwise, I think you would probably have to ignore a lot of historical perspective in order to rate Bush the worst. Sure, he's had his problems. He's also had some accomplishments.

So, to accurately rate President Bush, let's go through some highlights, lowlights and assign grades in key policy areas. For purposes of these ratings, we'll try to ignore ideology. We'll rate Bush on #1 His success in implementing his policies and #2 The success of those policies in achieving their objectives. For instance -- I may be Pro-Choice, but if outlawing abortion were a policy priority for Bush and he were successful able to outlaw it, he would get a high grade for accomplishing his policy priority.

Highlights of the Bush Administration
(1) Going into Afghanistan
It is easy to re-write history, this many years later, to read that it was always inevitable that we would go into Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power. It was far from it. It became inevitable because Bush had a clearly articulated vision and skillfully leveraged national sentiment to achieve strong support for going in. With another leader, this might not had happened. Keep in mind that the Taliban had bombed the World Trade Center in the past, had bombed the U.S.S. Cole, etc. and the most we'd ever done is a launch a single cruise missle at a chemical factory.

(2) Medicare Perscription Drug Benefit
It is hard to believe that the single largest entitlement expansion of the last 30 years happened under a Republican president, but it did. Bush got the policy that he wanted and in all honesty, it has worked fairly well.

(3) Killing the Hussein Family
Uday, Qusay and Saddam were evil people. You may agree or disgaree with going into Iraq, but it is hard to argue that the world isn't better off having those 3 dead.

Lowlights:
(1) Strategy in Iraq / Donald Rumsfeld
Any objective analysis would say that we did not have a strategy for winning in Iraq when we went in. Remember how we were going to be greeted as liberators? Remember how oil revenue was going to pay for the war? Thousands of casualties and years later, Bush finally wised up and canned Rumsfeld and sent in more troops under the highly effective leadership of Gates and Petreaus. But for 5 years, we languished with a failed policy.

(2) Asleep at the Economic Wheel
Lack of regulation of the banking industry, loose credit policy, "the ownership society", all failed and failed spectularly in the waning days of the Bush administration.

(3) Defecit Spending
He got his tax cuts sure, but as I discussed in a previous blog, spending surged. Partly to finance the wars, but also earmarks, farm subsidies, entitlements, etc. Bush has not only passed on an economy in crisis, but a completely disfunctional federal budget with the highest level of federal debt since the immediate aftermath of World War II.

(4) Absence of Any Significant Domestic Policy Accomplishments
Remember the president's immigration bill? His social security proposal? His blue ribbon commission to rewrite the tax code?

No?

Maybe that's becasue they all went nowhere.

In that light, here are Bush's grades:
Foreign Policy -- D+
Bush gets credit for going into Afghanistan. He gets credit for capturing or killing the whole Hussein family. He gets credit for eventually changing out Rumsfeld and shifting strategy in Iraq. But five years of casualties and failed policy there, coupled with awful diplomacy that lead to falling stature of the US in the world drags this grade down. We also failed to get Osama Bin Laden, a far more important strategic target than the Husseins.

Tax Policy -- B-
Bush got the tax cuts he wanted. He failed to get the more overarching reform that he sought to simplify and rewrite the tax code.

Budget Management -- D-
Huge defecits, exploding debt and no plan in sight.

Immigration Reform -- D+
Bush articulated a very clear and compelling vision. He had support from congressional Democrats and moderate Republicans like John McCain and Olympia Snowe. Still, he failed to get any legislation signed into law.

Homeland Security -- B+
There have been no significant attacks on US soil since September 11th, 2001. Bush got the Patriot Act into law, a far-reaching and socially changing piece of legislation. The TSA has been a bit of a mess, but other than this, Bush has basically done what he set out to do.

Social Security Reform -- D+
Clear vision, Republican congress, yet Bush got nothing passed. As an aside, can you imagine if social security money were in the stock market right now?

The Supreme Court -- B
Harriot Myers was a bit of a fiasco, but Bush basically got what he wanted -- two respected judicial conservatives in Samuel Alito and John Roberts. They will have a blueprint on social policy for decades past when Bush is gone.

Economic Policy -- D-
A crashing economy and seemingly no strategy to fix it. Guess those upper-income tax cuts really didn't solve all our problems.

Social Policy -- B+
Bush got his policy on stem cell research. He put tons of new aid into Africa to combat AIDS. Basically, Bush got what he wanted on social policy, although for the most part, it was not a priority in his administration.

The Transition -- A

Bush has been a star in how he has worked tirelessly to enable to Obama administration to hit the ground running. Few Presidents have done as much for an incoming President of the opposing party.

Overall Grade for His Presidency: C-
Bush is not the worst President ever, not by a long shot. Hoover had worse economic policies. Grant and Nixon were far more corrupt. Lynodn Johnson had a far more destructive foreign policy. Bush was arguably a worse President than Clinton, his father and Reagan, probably equal to Carter and better than Nixon.

So, how will Obama stack up? We'll have to wait at least 4 and as many as 8 years to find out.

Next Up:
Analyzing the US Senate and its ideological factions

1 comment:

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