George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 as a compassionate conservative who would be a competent president. As he leaves office with one of the lowest approval ratings for an outgoing president in recent history, a large percentage of the American public views the president as not being competent or compassionate or even conservative.
Bush, our first president with an MBA, was targeted to be a competent if not particularly dynamic or exciting president. However, many people see his presidency as bordering on incompetent for many reasons. For starters, his early failure to help New Orleans and the coastal areas when Hurricane Katrina struck with such devastating force is viewed as completely inept. Although the blame can also be parceled out to the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor the federal response was dismal and the buck stops at the Oval Office. I think the federal response - or the lack thereof - will be one of the enduring memories of the Bush administration.
The current state of the economy can be blamed on many factors and many sectors of the business and government share responsibility, but the man in the White House is presiding over one of the worst economic failures since the Great Depression. The lack of regulation on the federal level has been utterly unbelievable.
To say that Bush is a conservative when he is the head of an administration that has given more of American taxpayers' dollars to private business than any other president in our history is almost laughable. The president who calls himself a conservative could be defined more as a socialist these days as much of the financial sector and the auto industry are now owned by the American taxpayer. And for a president who ran on fiscal restraint and balance budgets he leaves us with a massive deficit.
The war in Iraq will most likely be his main legacy. A majority of Americans turned against our involvement in Iraq after the initial burst of applause for toppling an evil dictator. History will judge whether or not this war should have been fought in the first place, but the Bush administration did not seem competent in its conduct of the war and it has dragged on longer than World War II. The reasons for American involvement have gone from getting rid of weapons of mass destruction to providing democracy in Iraq and the broader Middle East.
While the surge of troops seems to have quelled the large scale violence, what is the end game in Iraq? Bush leaves office with more than 140,000 American troops still in Iraq and a divided country. What was accomplished in Iraq during his presidency? Will history hold him accountable for starting a pre-emptive war or will history eventually judge this as a correct decision based on the intelligence at the time?
If thirty years from now Americans are taking their vacations in sunny, democratic Baghdad, then history will judge Bush to have made the right decision in invading and occupying Iraq. Certainly, no one could have imagined during the Vietnam War that Americans would one day be traveling to that country as tourists and that the U.S. would have substantial trade with that nation.
Iraq could succeed beyond our wildest dreams and thrive as a democracy but that seems very far-fetched today. It's anyone's guess what will happen after American troops leave Iraq.
In my opinion, the main failure of Bush was his inability to capture Osama bin Laden.
It is unbelievable that in all the years since 9/11, this terrorist who killed nearly 3,000
Americans has gotten away with his horrific crime. Bush was going to "bring him to justice or bring justice to him." The president hardly mentions Osama these days.
It is shocking and disgraceful that Osama was not found and captured during his presidency.
After 9/11, the president rose to the occasion and rallied the American public. His speech to the firefighters in New York will be remembered as one of his better talks during his presidency. His toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan had the support of an overwhelming number of Americans and our allies around the world. His approval rating was in the 90s during this period.
But he squandered his popularity by not asking for sacrifices from the American public who would have been more than willing to listen to him at this point in his presidency. He could have called for a war tax or an energy tax at that time and they would have been approved.
On the positive side, Bush will be remembered for providing more funds for fighting AIDS in Africa than any other American president. His trade and immigration policies were not polarizing. After the 9/11 attack, Bush did not speak out against the religion of Islam but went out of his way to say the attacks were not the result of Islam at all.
However, Bush did not have the speaking abilities of a Reagan or an FDR. He did not have a well defined agenda like Reagan or Kennedy to get America moving again in some direction of his choosing. His personality, while supposedly very gracious and amiable one on one, never succeeded in connecting with the American public on television.
He never seemed to be in complete control and never seemed all that competent as measured by a large segment of the American public. Many people were not sure of what exactly his agenda was for America.
He will probably not be missed all that much. And a week after he has left the White House very few traces of his administration will be much in evidence.
So while he won't be replacing Lincoln, Washington, or FDR at the top of the list of great presidents, neither will he rank lower than James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding in his failures. He will be much closer to the bottom than the top.
In the end, history will judge and it most likely will be somewhat kinder to him than his approval rating as he departs the White House.