I have often criticized President George W. Bush on these pages. But now, as we approach the eight-year anniversary of his appointment to the presidency by the Supreme Court, it is time to praise his often overlooked accomplishments.
On the domestic front, President Bush has restored America’s faith in the Social Security system. For years those Wall Street types who still consider the New Deal an assault on their right to control all of America’s investments have peddled the false comparison between Social Security retirement benefits and what the taxes that paid for those benefits might have earned if invested in the stock market. These investment gurus conveniently ignored that those taxes also bought disability insurance and survivor’s insurance that no Wall Street investment carries. Nonetheless, Wall Street convinced Bush to choose the brazen option of attempting to privatize the system in 2005, with promises of glowing returns in the stock market. Not content with an overwhelming policy defeat that couldn’t even earn an up or down vote in a Republican Congress, Bush then presided over a stock market crash that should bury forever the notion of letting Wall Street invest our Social Security taxes.
Bush also has helped to rehabilitate the reputation of former President Nixon. Scores of Democratic friends have told me that they have begun to rethink their distaste for our 37th president. In Nixon they now see a president who actually complied with subpoenas and court orders, sought to protect the environment, negotiated with leaders such as Mao Tse Tung, whom he had once characterized as enemies, and had the wisdom to resign rather than cause himself, his party, and his country unending shame. They have fervently wished, without effect, that Bush could emulate Nixon.
Nixon is not the only president to have had his reputation enhanced by President Bush. For more than 50 years, Harry Truman’s reputation has been stained by the ignominy of the lowest public approval rating in the history of presidential polling. With his 20 percent approval rating in a recent CBS poll, Bush has moved to the top, or should I say bottom, of the charts.
Bush’s accomplishments have been even more stunning on the international stage. Just eight years ago, Iran was isolated and surrounded. It faced the unfriendly Taliban to its east in Afghanistan and a still-threatening Saddam Hussein to its west in Iraq. Within less than two years, Bush had eliminated both of these governments and installed a Shiite-dominated and Iran-friendly government in Iraq. No Iranian Ayatollah could have accomplished so much.
Bush has also helped redefine the white male brand when it comes to electoral politics. For more than 200 years the nation had assumed that it was in the safest hands when those hands were pale with unpainted nails. But Bush’s eight years convinced Democratic primary voters quickly to eliminate the presidential candidates who looked anything like Bush, as the contest narrowed to Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Republican primary voters had nothing but white males from which to make what for most was a depressing choice; only when Gov. Sarah Palin was picked to run as vice president did Republicans show any enthusiasm. This became painfully obvious to John McCain, who, in joint appearances with Palin, saw crowds leave after Palin had spoken and only a white male was left to talk.
Finally, as our entire financial and industrial system faces massive restructuring, we should consider how George W. Bush, in his forced restructuring of the Republican Party, has set the model for how American industry and finance might similarly downsize. In the space of just two national elections he has transformed the party from a nationwide force into a small regional party, able to win elections in over a dozen states.
This new Republican Party will be able to field candidates for the presidency with as much chance for winning as the boxers Joe Lewis faced in the 30s and 40s and famously called the “Bum of the Month Club.” A survey of the Republican Party’s house organs, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, suggests that the downsized Republican Party has found a standard-bearer, Sarah Palin, who promises the same level of intelligence, competence and integrity as soon to be ex-President Bush.
There can be little debate in December of 2008 that George W. Bush is the greatest president that we have inaugurated in this century.
Arthur Greif is a lawyer practicing in Bangor.