Tag Archives: presidents

Was George W. Bush a Good President?

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Texas, will soon be open to the public to reflect on the legacy of Bush 43.  With this monumental exhibition opening, journalists, bloggers, and historians began to weigh in on Bush’s presidency.  As Dave Weigel pointed out, the Republican Party is still divided on how to talk the issue (if you want evidence of that just watch how all the GOP candidates avoided mentioning Bush’s name, like Voldemort).  If you ask most Republicans and conservatives, they will probably say that they liked the guy and agreed with most of his policies, even if not all their outcome turned out as planned.  Most Democrats and liberals will probably say that the Bush years were a disaster and a black mark on the historical record.

Fair enough.  Every person is entitled to their opinion.  As a liberal, I had numerous problems with Bush’s policies: the careless, unilateral invasion of Iraq, the civil liberty violations of the Patriot Act, the cut backs in stem cell research, and the TARP bailouts.  I could go on.  Of course, I feel this way because I have a different political persuasion than the Bush team.  It would be shocking for me to say that a Republican presidency was great, since they have different ideological goals than I do.

The point I want to make from this is that evaluating a presidential legacy, especially in the modern era, cannot be completely separated from the partisan glasses in which we see the world.  Several bloggers, Dylan Matthews and Matthew Yglesias most notably have set this framework for viewing Bush’s successes and failures (both are left-of-center) from purely statistical means.  So you can look at a chart and determine whether one policy worked over another.

While I have nothing against data analysis, it is important to note that politics is so much more than that.  I’m a history major, and I like political history.  In every presidential biography or political narrative, the events tell the story and the reader comes away with a sense of what a person did or did not do correctly during their tenure in office.  There aren’t always charts and graphs to back up your claims.  Even how I tell the story and the impacts that follow will matter.  For instance, if I were to write about the Iraq War, I could make some fancy charts talking about GDP in Iraq before and after the war or about the number of homes with or with electricity to prove nation-building did or did not work.  Those charts will never tell me about the personal story behind the Iraqis who suffered through the War, the infrastructure decimated by the aerial bombings, or even the story of Iraqis who got to vote for the first time in 2005.  Notice how I tell that story and the words that I use matter.  History is more complicated than a few numbers on a pie chart and the legacy of a president can’t be determined by just a set of data points.

Was Bush a good president?  By my own partisan judgement, I don’t think he was.  However, that narrative, depending on who writes it could change.

Update: Yglesias does get more narrative based with this post.

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Foreign Policy Platitudes Mean Little

By John Stang

Herman Cain was often mocked by liberals and conservatives for his foreign policy incompetence.  There was the famous Uzbeki-stan-stan video, his awkward silence when asked about Libya, and when asked about Libya again in a crowd shouted “999” (most likely he didn’t hear the question).  So, needless to say, there was plenty of validity to the those claims.  However, one honest answer that I did admire in Cain was on Afghanistan and Iraq, he would ask for advice and get all the information necessary before making an informed decision.

While he can certainly be criticized, which he was, for trying to cop-out on giving a solid answer on each war, deep down, there is a kernel of truth to that statement.  Presidential candidates don’t have all the classified documents in front of them to make a good decision.  As a result, they make promises that they can’t keep.  Indeed, claiming that you would bomb Iran sounds good for a GOP war-hawk audience (as Rick Santorum often panders to), but after realizing the geopolitical implications of doing that, it sounds less appealing.

There are plenty of examples where presidents have promised one thing and did another.  Richard Nixon promised “peace with honor inVietnam,” yet he escalated the bombing campaign in both Vietnam and Cambodia.  He also visited China and began detente with the U.S.S.R.  George W. Bush heavily criticized Bill Clinton’s nation building activities in the Balkans, and then authorized nation-building in Iraq.  Barack Obama wanted to de-escalate the war in Afghanistan, yet he sent 30,000 extra troops into the country and authorized another war in Libya.  Not to mention, Obama continues the secret drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  He also failed to close Gitmo.  No matter what framework each president promised to view foreign policy, whether it was as a realist or idealist framework, they had to break with it after realizing the actual situation.

This is why I am heavily dubious of Ron Paul’s foreign policy ideas.  As Luke pointed out earlier, Ron Paul’s policies are not that liberal.  Not only that, it is difficult to enact.  Removing military bases around the world sounds like a great platitude, until you realize the domestic and international implications for doing so (i.e. lost jobs, threat of attack, etc.).  Getting out of international organizations like the U.N. would diminish our global role and exiting the World Trade Organization would hurt our commitment to following global trade rules.  Claiming that you would not start an unnecessary war is a great idea, until you find out that “necessary” is not easily defined in foreign policy.  Finally, getting rid of departments and lowering troop commitments would require an executive order, since Paul would probably not have a willing congress to do any of these things.  That would contradict his stance on taking power out of the executive branch.  Just sayin’.

Presidents must make difficult decisions.  Until that person does have all the intelligence or understands how difficult a timeline would be to implement, it’s not that fast, then most foreign policy claims during the campaign are pretty frivolous.

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Filed under 2012 Election, foreign policy, Ron Paul