George Bush is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the American mind. In September of 2008, just 31.9% of voters approved of Bush Jr. 58 percent disapproved.
Today? The numbers are flipped. In a poll in June of last year, some 59% of the country said they approved of the former President.
Broadly, this is a normal phenomenon. Take Barack Obama and his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. Both have seen a 6-10 point uptick in public approval since the President left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are two differences. The first is the sheer size of Bush’s bump in approval. Jumping 26 points in approval polls is an extraordinary thing, especially when one considers that he’s both still alive and his Presidency remains extremely relevant in American discourse. It’s not as if 50 years have passed since Mr. Bush left the White House, nor has the country martyred and mythologized his image as in the case for Ronald Reagan.
There’s a third factor here that’s even more important than the first two and makes his renaissance shocking.
George Bush was awful.
Before we begin with an account of how truly horrific the Bush administration was, I’ll note that it’s no mystery why the former President is popular again. This isn’t a piece searching for causation. The self-styled #Resistance to Donald Trump is at fault here. In #Resistance land, anybody who says anything even vaguely critical of Mr. Trump is a hero.
Take the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Throughout the history of the organization, the left has been opposed to FBI, and for good reason. The FBI is an unaccountable draconian bureaucracy that’s willing to take any step necessary to achieve its goals, including urging Reverend King to commit suicide. But its leadership doesn’t like Mr. Trump, so now the #Resistance left thinks that FBI agents are brave heroes, risking storied careers to stand up to the authoritarian in the White House. They’re not.
The extent of George Bush’s critique of Trump came in October of 2017. Bush landed subtle shots about misguided nationalism and fake news.
The whole endeavor lasted 16 minutes. Mr. Bush never called out Trump by name, and generalized his statements such that they could apply to any of the nationalist movements that have sprung up around the world.
Am I saying the former President deserves no credit? No. The norms of American politics dictate that it’s not the job of former Presidents to critique the current man in the White House. The fact that he offered pointed albeit veiled critiques of the Trump administration deserves the slightest nod. But they certainly shouldn’t change our perception of Mr. Bush, who one could fairly argue is the worst President in the history of this country (though I would disagree).
Why did the Bush administration invade two Middle Eastern countries, neither of which were responsible for the attacks on 9/11? Was it for oil, to settle the scores of his father, or to enrich the company who was previously run by Vice President Dick Cheney with military contracts?
Let’s set aside these theories, some more conspiratorial than others, and take the administration at their word. According to Bush and Cheney, the rationale for the war in Iraq was what we now label neoconservatism. We were going to overthrow Saddam, install a democratic government, and the rest of the Middle East was going to lay down their arms after seeing how fruitful and liberating democracy was.
Let’s put this in proper context. The Bush administration drummed up false propaganda to the American people about Weapons of Mass destruction so we could invade Iraq for a democratic pipe dream. Even if one extends the most generous interpretation and presumes they really believed in WMD’s, the war in Iraq was illegal (under UN charter countries aren’t allowed to launch preemptive wars). Add to this the fact we were trying to impose our own belief systems on a country that had done nothing to us by force, and it’s clear that the whole war was entirely illegal and entirely immoral. Did I mention this is the generous interpretation?
Iraq was Bush’s most awful and costly blunder, but it was nowhere close to his only. Because this isn’t a novel, I can’t get into all of them, and certainly not in any great detail. To name just a few runner ups for the awful things the Bush administration did, we would include sanctioning torture, blacklisting Muslims, deregulation of the financial sector that ushered in the Great Recession, and failure to provide emergency relief to Hurricane Katrina survivors.
I’m just scratching the surface. “Scandal fatigue” was a word used to describe the Bush White House because his administration did so many awful things on a daily basis.
George Bush began the two longest wars in American history while cutting taxes and deregulating such that the entire financial system collapsed. He was one of the worst, if not the worst, President in the history of the United States.
The #Resistance is misguided to label him anything but awful, no matter how many (the current count is exactly one) vague jabs he throws at the current resident of the White House. Bush did this country immense harm that we continue to recover from and will for years. We mustn’t revise his image because he has semantic disagreement with Trump’s style.