11.27.2008

The Bush Legacy

With the Bush term winding down, many are celebrating and some will
opine. Here's my take on the Bush legacy:

* National security. Of course, 9/11 is the defining moment of the
past eight years. The fact that we haven't had a similar attack since
then is a good thing, as is the reduction in the very real feeling of
terror we all felt after that eventful day. Is the US safer because
of Bush? Time will tell, but given the fearsomeness of our opponents,
I think history will judge his swing for the fences to be largely the
right call.

* Two wars. Unfortunately, war is expensive; and Bush seriously
misjudged how difficult securing the peace would be and how conflicted
American occupation would play in the Middle East. Again, right idea
but lousy execution.

* Oil. Also unfortunately, Bush didn't parlay unprecedented levels of
patriotism into anything of substance. As Tom Friedman notes in one
of his books, Bush could've told Americans to turn their thermostats
down to 65 degrees, carpool, and otherwise kick our dependence on oil,
foreign or otherwise. Instead, the main message seemed to be "keep
spending, or else the terrorists win." We missed a moment to be in a
better place geo-politically and environmentally.

* Environment. On a related note, whatever your position is on global
warming, the Bush years represent a missed opportunity to
significantly move the domestic economy towards sustainability;
however painful that transition needs to be, we had a chance to take a
big step in that direction, and we didn't. Whether eight years of
inaction will cost our grandchildren clean air and water remains to be
seen, but low marks have to be given here regardless.

* Global image. This would seem to be Bush's worst legacy, that of an
America that much of the world seems to despise. We certainly have
some reconciling to do, although hopefully capitalism and
entrepreneurship doesn't get thrown under the bus with everything
else, since it's in those very areas that we can lead and help the
most powerfully, especially when it comes to lifting the poorest of
places into a freer and better way of living.

* Economy. Whoever you want to point fingers at for this year's
financial meltdown and economic slowdown - a Democratic Congress, the
ratings agencies, greedy Wall Street CEOs - all of this happened under
Bush's watch. So the MBA president has to bear some responsibility
here.

* Fiscal policy. Tax cuts earlier this decade likely staved off a
deeper recession, and save for the last 12 months, Bush might've left
office with a budget surplus. Of course, a lot of things would be
different if the last 12 months hadn't happened. So I'll say here:
right moves, unfortunate timing.

* Culture wars. Karl Rove is a genius, but he is a divisive one; and
the last three elections have polarized people rather than bringing
them together. So much for "I'm a uniter, not a divider." We'll see
if the 2008 version of a Washington outsider can do better.

* Education. No Child Left Behind is vilified by many, but has
changed the conversation in terms of standards and consequences.
It'll be interesting to see what the trajectory of federal education
policy is from here on out.

I'm sure I'm missing a few major categories, and I'm sure many will
think that I'm being far too generous or not generous enough. But
that's my take on the Bush years. Your thoughts?

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