The weekly column from Clark Judge:
“As he opens his library, George W. Bush “Grows in America’s Esteem” –and deserves to.” by Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
The George W. Bush Presidential Library will be dedicated today as the 43rd president, in the words of this morning’s FoxNew.com headline, “grows in Americans’ esteem.” (http://tinyurl.com/anmhjxk)
The assessment was to characterize Fox’s own poll results, released yesterday, showing about half the nation approving of Mr. Bush’s stewardship. This was up from 23 percent in October 2008, the nadir of the financial crisis. You can count me in the plus column.
The former president was always the kind of guy who could be easily (what was his word?) “misunderestimated.” A true patriot and careful to respect the constitutional limits to presidential power, he was far more sophisticated than his Texas swagger suggested, or than clueless Eastern elites could comprehend. Cowboy boots and horselaughs were part of the man. But so were a quick and curious mind, a good heart and courage.
The War on Terror, of course, consumed his presidency. The September 11, 2001 attacks were the fruit of the eight years of the feckless national security policy that preceded his presidency. But following the airborne assaults on New York and Washington, he not only rallied the nation, but at his command within days the first Special Forces units were on the ground in Afghanistan.
Understanding that the threat extended far more broadly than a small band of guerrillas in the mountains west of the Khyber Pass, for the next seven-and-a-half years, he waged what he and his team dubbed the Global War on Terror. His successor criticized the strategy, dropped the term, but once in office – and confronting the reality of personal responsibility if the nation were not protected from future acts of terror – continued most of the Bush policies.
Mr. Bush’s decision to go into Iraq remains controversial but with the radical reassessment of risks that necessarily followed the 9-11 raids and the reckless aggressiveness that Iraq’s leader flaunted almost daily at the time, the choice looks to me, at least, all but inescapable.
And when that operation bogged down and our military leadership proved insufficiently imaginative to adjust to the insurgency, Mr. Bush didn’t distance himself from the problem or blame others. In a manner reminiscent of Lincoln, he engineered a new strategy, installed a new commander on the ground and produced the success of the surge. The word for this is leadership.
Meanwhile, his forward strategy of defense as well as emphasis on gathering intelligence on the radical forces arrayed against us allowed the foiling of new plots for the balance of his tenure.
Many today see his championing of freedom and democracy globally as imprudent – and surely his rhetoric was read differently than that of president’s before him. Yet his words and actions were in line with almost every chief executive from Franklin Roosevelt and his Four Freedoms to Ronald Reagan with his Forward Strategy for Freedom. He adjusted an enduring goal of America foreign policy to a new age with new circumstances.
Similarly, he addressed a new kind of humanitarian crisis – the African AIDS epidemic – with classically American initiative and compassion. This response may reap huge benefits for our country in the decades ahead, as Africa’s economy grows to become a global force.
At home, Mr. Bush takes heat for the growth of domestic spending and particularly for Medicare Part D, which added pharmaceuticals to Medicare coverage. But his expansion of Medicare also contracted it. Unlike the original Medicare before it or the Obamacare of recent years, Part D was a market-driven program. This is why it has come in hundreds of millions of dollars under budget (as opposed to the original Medicare, which was, as I recall, 10,000 percent over budget when the farthest date in projections published at its passage was reached).
Mr. Bush’s advisors wanted a larger overhaul of federal entitlements. They saw Part D as providing a model for how that overhaul could be achieved while reducing costs and government intrusion into the market. It may yet.
Mr. Bush is also criticized for his handling of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis was the consequence of federal mortgage policies that he had tried to reform – reforms that Congressional Democrats had vetoed. His September-December 2008 initiatives and those of the Federal Reserve prevented the collapse of our monetary base. As I wrote at the time (http://tinyurl.com/3d7vah2), if his successor had done nothing more, the fundamentals were in place for a rapid recovery. Unfortunately, his successor proved not so wise.
The Bush presidency began with one sudden, severe and unprecedented crisis and ended with another. To both, Mr. Bush and his team responded rapidly, energetically and, by and large, effectively while respecting the Constitution and the separation of powers.
He deserves the growing esteem he is receiving and much more.