Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Apologia pro George W. Bush

Andrew Roberts summarizes the case for the defense. Power Line offers a balanced assessment. National Review recently devoted a fine special issue, and today a symposium, to evaluating Bush’s presidency. NR puts Bush in “the middle ranks” of American presidents. Power Line judges him “reasonably good.” That’s about my take, though how history remembers him will depend to a great extent on how both Iraq and the economic crisis ultimately turn out. If Iraq remains a stable and reasonably just country (Western-style liberal democracy ain’t gonna happen, but something much much better than Saddam certainly could), and if the economic crisis is resolved over the next couple of years, then Bush could ultimately find his way closer to the top ranks. If Iraq reverts to chaos and the economic crisis turns into a prolonged depression, then he might be stuck forever in the company of Herbert Hoover (though since in both cases much depends on what Obama does, we cannot predict for certain how much blame would placed by historians on Bush).

In any event, the “worst president ever” mantra is (like most criticism of Bush over the last eight years) disconnected from reality. Conservatives are right to lament Bush’s record on spending, his naïveté regarding illegal immigration, the folly of the Harriet Miers nomination, and his lack of realism vis-à-vis exporting liberal democracy to the Middle East. They are also right to be very wary of the measures he took over the last several months in dealing with the financial crisis (though I’m not myself convinced that anyone has really put forward a better solution, and he did at least try to head it off some time back over the obstructions of the likes of Barney Frank).

At the same time, they are living in a fantasy world if they believe any conservative president could have done much better on the first two issues. Sad to say, the majority of voters simply do not want smaller government, and never have. (Newt Gingrich attempted the first serious, if small, effort in this direction and the result was Bill Clinton’s reelection.) Nor will the state of the culture permit any serious attempt to deal with immigration. True, voters often say they want smaller government and enforcement of immigration laws, but the minute any conservative makes an effort in either direction, they are sure to turn on him, half-believing as they do the propaganda shoveled at them in the schools and by the media. Overall, on these issues, Bush’s record does not seem significantly worse than that of Reagan.

The Miers nomination was a failure of judgment rather than a betrayal of conservative principle, and the error was in any case corrected and amply made up for by the Roberts and Alito nominations. Though promoting liberal democracy per se in the Middle East was never realistic, removing Saddam and replacing his regime with a better one was justified, as I have argued at length elsewhere (here, here, and here). Moreover, Bush did real good in advancing the pro-life cause, cutting taxes, and destroying terrorist networks. He made a more serious effort to enact conservative reforms of Social Security than any previous president dared, and his failure here reflects the will of the electorate rather than any lack of principle on his part. And it cannot be emphasized too much that he succeeded admirably in preventing any further terrorist attacks on American soil after 9/11.

The standard leftist criticisms of the president are without merit. We are assured that President Bush “damaged America’s standing in the world.” People who say this apparently think “the world” means “Western Europe,” since Bush hardly made the U.S less popular in Muslim countries (where we have long been hated), maintained good relations with India, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea, most Eastern European countries and most South American countries, and is personally popular in Africa because of the enormous amounts of aid the U.S. has sent there at his direction. Even in Western Europe, Bush left America on good terms with Brown’s UK, Sarkozy’s France, Merkel’s Germany, and Berlusconi’s Italy. It is true that he was not popular with the likes of Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, or Hugo Chavez. But no one who values the opinions of such men is worth taking seriously.

The demonization of Bush as a promoter of “torture” is especially disgraceful, resting entirely on a refusal to use language carefully or report facts honestly. Relentlessly to describe even the harshest interrogation methods used by American operatives on known terrorists (e.g. waterboarding) as if they were remotely on a moral par with the sort of thing Saddam’s regime inflicted on innocents, is outrageous in the extreme, and itself a grave injustice. Nor do the president’s critics ever bother to offer an argument to show how exactly a man like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known to be guilty of mass murder and thus himself already meriting the death penalty (at least on any sound moral philosophy, such as classical natural law theory), suffered an injustice in being subjected to methods which, while extremely unpleasant, are simply not comparable to the Quentin Tarantino-ish clichés most people have in mind when they hear the word “torture.” Nor do they deal honestly in implying that the harshest methods were employed at all frequently (waterboarding, it seems, was used on no more than three prisoners), that the disgraceful actions at Abu Ghraib were the implementation of Bush policy (a claim rejected by a bipartisan panel), or that the administration violated the Geneva convention (which does not apply to irregular combatants like al-Qaeda fighters or to those who have already violated the laws of war, but which the administration largely applied to them anyway).

Then there are the ridiculous charges that Bush was a “racist” and stirred up animus against Muslims – the sort of slanderous charges leftists always make a priori against any Republican, whatever the actual evidence. Even Michael Kinsley, in an otherwise unfair and ungracious retrospective in Time a few weeks ago, conceded that Bush “came up with serious money to treat AIDS and malaria in Africa. He used the bully pulpit to embrace Muslims in the great post-9/11 American bear hug, when there was real danger of the opposite reaction.” Some racist.

The main reason Bush is hated by the left, everyone knows, and it is the same reason Sarah Palin is hated by them. He was hated above all for his adherence to Christian morality, and in particular his opposition to abortion and “same-sex marriage,” his insistence on describing the actions of bin Laden, Saddam, and other mass murderers as “evil,” and his open acknowledgement that he was answerable to God for how he used his office. (To be sure, this is not the make-it-up-as-you-feel-like-it liberalism-in-religious-drag pseudo-Christian “morality” of Obama, but it is the sort of morality all Christians historically, up to about 40 or 50 years ago, would have regarded as obvious.) They hated him for this from the get-go, before he had a chance to cut taxes, send troops into Iraq, or indeed even to take the oath of office. It was, you might say, a “pre-emptive” hatred, and every criticism that followed was simply a rationalization of this original, irrational, primal loathing.

And then there was the matter of payback. As Andrew Breitbart writes:

The demonization of President George W. Bush was a fait accompli before he was even inaugurated. The rage and hatred against Bush developed before his election and before his political enemies got to know him. The Democratic party facing the 2000 election was not just determined to get Democrats elected. It was also determined to rehabilitate the newly impeached Bill Clinton and to help create Hillary Clinton’s future. Part of the mandate was to send the message to Republicans that the Democrats could do to ‘their guy’ what the Republicans had done to theirs—but on a much larger scale, with the majority of the media in tow.

The former president can take comfort in the words of Jesus Christ: “If the world hate you, know ye that it hated me before you.” (John 15:18)

A “reasonably good” president, and a good man. Thank you for your service to our country, President Bush, and God bless you.


  1. A very fair and balanced assessment of Bush 43 - I can't find much to argue with. I might rate him just slightly higher than you do, by putting a heavier weight on the things he got right (where Bush was good, he was VERY good). Also, I maintained a strong personal affection for the man (as I did for his father), no matter how badly he sometimes infuriated me.

    As a national leader in wartime, I felt that Bush's major failures were (1) sticking with a failing military strategy for an unconscionable length of time, and (2) refusing, or being unable, to connect directly with the American people regarding the aims and progress of the war effort. The latter point was the case even when the war still had broad support, and has always been mysterious and frustrating to me.

    Your diagnosis of what really underlies Bush Derangement Syndrome - namely, hatred of Christianity and traditional morality - is, of course, spot on. The endless, hysterical villification of Bush, followed by the rise of the messianic Obama cult, does seem to signal the ascendancy of forces that should concern Christians (at the very least). America has at last fully linked arms with dying, post-Christian Western Europe. Aside from being a catastrophe for the unborn and the defenceless (Obama's first presidential act will be a sacrifice to Moloch), I'll also be interested to see how long Christians will continue to be even tolerated in such a society. A good article on the subject:

  2. Your attempted exculpation of the Bush administration from the charges of torture are disingenuous and spurious; you simply set up as straw men faceless sufferers of "Bush derangement syndrome." Instead of arguing that the techniques employed by the Bush administration do not meet the threshold of torture, you absolve them of not reaching the levels of brutality employed by Saddam. As if the very fact that we did not attach electrodes to people's genitals while whipping them with steel cords somehow renders moot merely driving them to (or past) the point of insanity and suicide through the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, intimidation military dogs, isolation, etc. You wave away our treatment of KSM because it does comport with the delusions supposedly held by "most people," lazily justifying the use of a technique whose use we used to try and execute the citizens of other nations as war criminals. Finally, you summarily reject the application of the Geneva conventions to the prisoners at Guantanamo, ignoring the fact that even if we set aside the Geneva conventions (despite the fact that many prominent legal scholars seem to believe that the conventions have at least some application) explicit U.S. statute forbids the use of torture.

    Though I disagree with and find objectionable almost all of your substantive beliefs, I return to this blog because I usually find a forcefully and rigorously argued point. I believe you have done yourself a disservice with this post.

  3. Hi Warren,

    I think we basically agree.


    Re: "torture," the burden is not on me to exculpate the Bush administration, but on Bush's critics to justify their allegations. And my point was that they have failed to do that, lazily relying on the emotional force of the word "torture" instead of presenting careful legal and moral definitions that would take account of the crucial differences between e.g. forcing a mass murderer to remain in a standing position for a few hours, and pulling out the fingernails of a political dissident. The critics are more interested in self-righteous posturing than in serious argument. So save your outrage for them.

  4. Hey, at least we've finally figured out who "Anonymous" is - Mark Shea! ;-)

  5. It will be tragic if George Bush is blamed for the financial crisis which is clearly a product of Democratic intervention and manipulation. This does not mean that I admire the growth of government and debt on his watch and it does not mean that I am a partisan for the Republican party. Check out the timeline to financial disaster.

    The Postscript is especially interesting in view of the fact that Obama's election victory was essentially on the back of the loans debacle!

    1977: Pres. Jimmy Carter signs into Law the Community Reinvestment Act the foundation and cornerstone for the impending disaster.. The law pressured financial institutions to extend home loans to those who would otherwise not qualify.

    The publicized premise: Home ownership would improve poor and crime-ridden communities and neighborhoods in terms of crime, investment, jobs, etc.

    The Results: Statistics bear out that it did not help.

    How did the government get so deeply involved in the housing market?

    Answer: Bill Clinton wanted it that way.

    1992: Republican representative Jim Leach (IO) warned of the danger that Fannie and Freddie were changing from being agencies of the public at large to money machines for the principals and the stock-holding few.

    1993: Clinton extensively rewrote Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's rules turning the quasi-private mortgage-funding firms into semi-nationalized monopolies dispensing cash and loans to large Democratic voting blocks and handing favors, jobs and contributions to political allies. This potent mix led inevitably to corruption and now the collapse of Freddie and Fannie.

    1994: Despite warnings, Clinton unveiled his National Home-Ownership Strategy, which broadened the CRA in ways congress never intended.

    1995: Congress, about to change from a Democrat majority to Republican. Clinton orders Robert Rubin's Treasury Dept to rewrite the rules. Robt. Rubin's Treasury reworked rules, forcing banks to satisfy quotas for sub-prime and minority loans to get a satisfactory CRA rating. The rating was key to expansion or mergers for banks. Loans began to be made on the basis of race and little else.

    1997 - 1999: Clinton, bypassing Republicans in Congress, enlisted Andrew Cuomo, then Secretary of Housing and Urban Dev elopement, allowing Freddie and Fannie to get into the sub-prime market in a BIG way. Led by Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd, congress doubled down on the risk by easing capital limits and allowing them to hold just 2.5% of capital to back their investments vs. 10% for banks. Since they could borrow at lower rates than banks their enterprises boomed.

    With incentives in place, banks poured billions in loans into poor communities, often "no doc", "no income", requiring no money down and no verification of income. Worse still was the cronyism: Fannie and Freddie became home to out-of work-politicians, mostly Clinton Democrats. 384 politicians got big campaign donations from Fannie and Freddie. Over $200 million had been spent on lobbying and political activities. During the 1990's Fannie and Freddie enjoyed a subsidy of as much as $182 Billion, most of it going to principals and shareholders, not poor borrowers as claimed.

    Did it work? Minorities made up 49% of the 12.5 million new homeowners but many of those loans have gone bad and the minority homeownership rates are shrinking fast.

    1999: New Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers, became alarmed at Fannie and Freddie's excesses. Congress held hearings the ensuing year but nothing was done because Fannie and Freddie had donated millions to key congressmen and radical groups, ensuring no meaningful changes would take place. "We manage our political risk with the same intensity that we manage our credit and interest rate risks," Fannie CEO Franklin Raines, a former Clinton official and current Barack Obama advisor, bragged to investors in 1999.

    2000: Secretary Summers sent Undersecretary Gary Gensler to Congress seeking an end to the "special status". Democrats raised a ruckus as did Fannie and Freddie, headed by politically connected CEO's who knew how to reward and punish. "We think that the statements evidence a contempt for the nation's housing and mortgage markets" Freddie spokesperson Sharon McHale said. It was the last chance during the Clinton era for reform.

    2001: Republicans try repeatedly to bring fiscal sanity to Fannie and Freddie but Democrats blocked any attempt at reform; especially Rep. Barney Frank and Sen.Chris Dodd who now run key banking committees and were huge beneficiaries of campaign contributions from the mortgage giants.

    2003: Bush proposes what the NY Times called "the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago". Even after discovering a scheme by Fannie and Freddie to overstate earnings by $10.6 billion to boost their bonuses, the Democrats killed reform.

    2005: Then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan warns Congress: "We are placing the total financial system at substantial risk". Sen. McCain, with two others, sponsored a Fannie/Freddie reform bill and said, "If congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole". Sen. Harry Reid accused the GOP ;of trying to "cripple the ability of Fannie and Freddie to carry out their mission of expanding homeownership" The bill went nowhere. [RC comment, the Republicans appeared to have the numbers (with a wafer-thin majority) but there is an allegation that some rebel Republicans had been "nobbled" with bribes from Fannie and Freddie so the vote would not have been carried].

    2007: By now Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee over HALF of the $12 trillion US mortgage market. The mortgage giants, whose executive suites were top-heavy with former Democratic officials, had been working with Wall St. to repackage the bad loans and sell them to investors. As the housing market fell in '07, sub prime mortgage portfolios suffered major losses. The crisis was on, though it was 15 years in the making.

    2008: McCain has repeatedly called for reforming the behemoths, Bush urged reform 17 times. Still the media have repeated Democrats' talking points about this being a "Republican" disaster. A few Republicans are complicit but Fannie and Freddie were created by Democrats, regulated by Democrats, largely run by Democrats and protected by Democrats. That's why taxpayers are now being asked for $700 billion!!

    Postscript: ACORN is one of the principal beneficiaries of Fannie/ Freddie's slush funds. They are currently under indictment or investigation in many states. Barack Obama served as their legal counsel, defending their activities for several years.

  6. Re American "torture": I remember reading a review of a movie that came out a few years ago, which showed interviews with ordinary Iraqis and what they really thought about Americans. I can't remember the name of the film, unfortunately - I know that it was quickly buried by neglect because many of the opinions expressed in it were very embarrassing to the liberal Western media's narrative about the war. In one scene, I read, a number of Iraqi men who had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam - guys who had all lost fingers, hands, arms, eyes, etc - were sitting around and laughing about the pictures from Abu Ghraib, which were just becoming known at that time. One of the men said, "I want to be captured by the Americans! They torture you by taking all your clothes off and having a woman touch your penis!"

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. To what extent was Bush involved in presenting evidence of WMDs and other supposed dangers to House and Senate? It appears there was some misrepresentation, though few citizens are aware of the degree of that misrepresenation (even the Robb Silvermann report, sanctioned by Bush and GOP, suggests misrepresentation re WMDs and terrorist threat in Iraq, not to say incompetence on part of intelligence/CIA). At any rate, it remains a serious issue.

    Regardless of his strong character, or optimism, etc or even the final results of his actions, he bore false witness, more or less, as did other members of his cabinet. That's sufficient reason to question his moral character.

  9. But the Bush Adminstration regularly used the phase "Enhanced Interrogation". What does this phase mean?

  10. Revisionist history at its best.

    Anyone looking for a less sociopathic take on the Bush administration is welcome to swing by:

  11. People who say this apparently think “the world” means “Western Europe,”

    A left-wing academic at a philosophy e-forum once said that of course by "world" he meant Western Europe and that, what's more, I knew that he meant it so. But I hadn't known it (and he resided neither in North America nor in Europe). I had thought that, by "world," he meant "world." I'm still struck by his insistence that I knew all along what he meant.

    I agree with Warren, even when Bush has infuriated me I still have liked and respected him. For my part, without cataloging the reasons, I think that Bush has been a better-than-reasonably-good president.

    Nice time line, Rafe! Hope you don't mind if I cannibalize it. Do you have a version with links?