Only now can we begin to reassess the man who is considered by many as a blackspot on the record of the most powerful office in the world.
It is only with extreme hindsight that you can judge the tenure of any world leader, especially one who was so long-serving and highly controversial. So five years after the end of the Bush Era (because, let’s face it, his Dad was really overcast by the long shadow of the Reagan Era), after the dust has settled and people have had just about enough time to forget what he looks like, it might be ripe to begin a reassessment, however slight. Reassessment does not necessarily suggest a change of opinion, but it is a fact of the Presidency that Clinton is more popular now than when he left, JFK is less popular, and Richard Nixon is -well, increasingly fascinating.
H.W. popped back into view in anticipation of the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on May 1st. Created in order to spread the Bush belief in ‘freedom’ (and we all know how sticky a concept that is), and following in the footsteps of several former Presidents, half a billion dollars was raised to make this idea a reality. At first reluctant to part with fierce sums to a man widely considered in 2008 as one of the worst Presidents in United States’ history right and left, Obama’s administration and the swing back to U.S. social liberalism and big-statism propelled colleagues and supporters to stump up the prodigious sum.
Exhibits on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina remind visitors of how unique Bush’s Presidency was, whilst the silver plague outside of the building is a piece of ‘impact metal’ from the Twin Towers; a piece of metal which actually bore the impact of one of the planes.
The Ex-President’s standing in national estimation seems bizarre; always hated by the Left, he seems to be none-too-applauded on the right either. Republican supporters are still seeking their new messiah and still turn to Reagan, not to Bush, as an exemplar of the good old days. The world seems to have quietly forgotten him as a strange malfunction of the system, someone to laugh at, or scorn for his horrendous actions. Comparisons with Tony Blair are unwarranted since Blair still enjoys relatively buoyant world support despite his blanking by the UK -Bush, on the other hand, enjoys no such statesmanlike podium.
His accusations are many: his failure to show support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the dangerously intrusive Patriot Act which arguably suspended Habeas Corpus (and still does), his invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, a budget deficit that wiped the work of the Clinton administration off the map, and generally more poverty and discord nationwide. It’s not for nothing that The Wire became one of the biggest hits of mid-noughties TV.
To compare George W. Bush to Gerald Ford is not a joke, though it may appear so at first. Both men to this day are known for their clown-like personae, eerily masking what were two deeply calculating leaders. Like Gerald Ford, George Bush attempted to evoke a sense of solidarity to Americans in time of great distress. Like Ford, he presided over a crisis which shook the country to the core. Like Ford, he left in ignominy. The comparisons between the ‘clown’ Ford, who tried to steer his country through a storm, and the ‘idiot’ Bush, who tried to steer his country through several, bears thinking about.
Granted, George Bush was more successful and ultimately will be remembered more for what he did (albeit because a lot of it was bad) more than Ford will. But he may also, like Ford, be unduly forgotten for what he did do. He gave leadership to the United States in its gravest time; the days and weeks after 9/11. He pioneered the ‘No Child Left Behind’ scheme which, despite its foibles, had its successes. As Ford gave amnesty to Vietnam Draft evaders and Military deserters, Bush gave the protection of U.S. laws to millions of illegal immigrants through the creation of a ‘temporary guest-worker program’ and backed a bill, later defeated in the Senate, which would have enacted a program for them which could have led all the way to citizenship.
George Bush will never be seen as a liberal, and for good reason. In many ways -arguably the most crucial ways-he was more radical than Reagan, he was a man intent on stamping the U.S. on the world the same way the European powers were intent on stamping themselves on the world during the 19th Century. He had an illegal war and failed to show compassion where it was needed. He often appeared unfocused, unconcerned, and unaware. But revisionists should not forget what George Bush did: his policies were complex and, whilst taking away much from those who needed it, also offered much. So when the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens on May 1st, it will be important to remember the man behind the myth, something which, in Ford’s case, many have failed to do. History may never forgive George Bush, but that is no excuse for not trying to understand him.
George W. Bush Texas Air National Guard, USAF