George W. Bush will leave office on January 20th with one of the lowest approval ratings in American presidential history. "History will judge me," he says. Fair enough. Truman did not fare much better with public opinion in 1952. Consequently, historians and political commentators have been quick to draw parallels between the two presidents, questioning whether the history books will vindicate Bush as they have, for the most part, for Truman.
The prophetic crystal ball that I am, I can tell you that Bush's legacy will be viewed as far more complex than a mere assessment of Bush's policy blunders and foreign policy faux pas.
The past eight years of Bush have sown the seeds of the Republican Party's demise, which will culminate tomorrow in an overwhelming upset for Barack Obama. Obama has inspired generations of Americans to believe in his ability to redeem the United States both domestically and abroad. He is the real deal. But, when looking at those issues which Americans say will weigh most heavily on their voting, Obama's presence and message are all that more powerful because of Bush's - and by association, McCain's -failures. In a very real sense, Bush's greatest achievement was to create the conditions which allowed Obama's rise.
The flip-side, unfortunately, is that the Obama administration will be saddled with the remnants of Bush's policy failures. The uncontrollable budget deficit will need to be tamed. As Bill Clinton showed, this is not an impossible task. What will prove to be impossible will be Obama's ability to pursue the many good policy proposals he will want to turn into legislation. As with Clinton's presidency, Obama will be forced to chose one major legislative hallmark -probably universal healthcare - and steer it through Congress. Though Obama will earn an unprecedented level of political capital tomorrow, he won't be able to spend it.
And so, history will judge you, George W. Bush, as someone who prevented a great man from achieving his full potential.