Learn to appreciate the Bush Presidency
Published 11:47 am Monday, January 19, 2009
By By Tray Smith
When my family first traveled to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2002, we attended the first Fourth of July firework celebration held on the national mall after Sept. 11, 2001. Mom and I insisted Dad take us to the Jefferson Memorial to view the fireworks, rather than the more crowded and better positioned Lincoln Memorial. We felt we would be safer there if a terrorist attack unfolded.
We still didn’t feel safe. Indeed, we spent much of the evening looking over our shoulders to make sure planes flying overhead landed at nearby Reagan National Airport.
Five years later, I harbored no such fears when I viewed the Washington firework spectacular on July 4, 2007, nor when I viewed them a third time this past summer. Indeed, the only development that has worried me on recent trips to D.C. has been the specter of having my personal belongings confiscated by Transportation Security Administration officials - the very people meant to defend us from 9/11 style hijackings.
My newfound confidence in my own security has been caused not by a lack of will on the part of the terrorists - they are still targeting us - but instead by the complacency bred from years of successful counterterrorism policy.
No one deserves more credit for that policy than outgoing President George Bush. By going on offense in the war on terror, redefining American foreign policy, and restructuring our national security apparatus, President Bush has left the United States prepared to confront the challenges it will face for the next generation. Through employing tactics such as the torture of terrorist suspects, domestic wiretapping exercises and the military commissions system, President Bush has prevented a second attack on our soil. While liberals cheer Bush’s departure, they should be somewhat discomforted by the fact that, despite all of their criticisms, he succeeded in keeping America safe precisely because he ignored their shrill opposition to the most essential elements of his national security program.
Eight years ago, Bush took office under the cloud of an election that stirred deep rifts nationwide. Democrats in Congress not only opposed him, but they questioned the legitimacy of his holding office. Continued Democratic reluctance to accept Bush’s authority has framed his entire presidency. Not only have liberal politicians in Washington opposed Bush, but they have spent the last eight years obstructing initiatives that would have allowed him to avoid the unpopularity that spoiled many of his second term aspirations.
Nevertheless, Bush persevered. On Sept. 12th, 2001, he began fighting the war that will define his presidency, and this generation. And everyone thanked God the Supreme Court didn’t let Al Gore recount himself into the White House.
Intense political opposition, combined with Bush’s ambitious foreign policy, drained so much attention and political capital out of his administration that he was ultimately unable to avoid his greatest failure: the financial crisis that his successor will inherit. Had the President been more effective advancing his agenda - entitlement reform, health care reform and an overhaul of the tax system - the severity of our current crisis situation may have been reduced. Had the President been more forceful reigning in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and preventing the contagion of subprime mortgages that triggered this meltdown, the entire catastrophe may have been prevented. Most importantly, if Bush had been more successful expanding areas open to oil exploration, the devastatingly high energy prices of recent years could have been avoided.
On these economic issues, however, it is important to point out that conservative policies did not fail, Bush failed to enact conservative policies. Yet, on several essential domestic concerns, President Bush achieved meaningful reforms. No Child Left Behind has transformed schools across the country, and teachers, students and school boards alike are being held accountable to high standards. The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit is overwhelmingly popular with seniors, has cost tax payers much less than was originally projected and will serve as a foundation for meaningful Medicare reform. The tax cuts President Bush signed in 2001 and 2003 allowed the economy to bounce back from the trauma of 9/11, the dot-com bubble and the round of corporate accounting scandals that struck in the early part of the decade. While he leaves with the economy in a tailspin, the significance of the economic recovery after 9/11 cannot be underscored. The unprecedented measures the President has recently ignited, signal not only the gravity of his own failures, but his willingness to pragmatically act in the best interest of the American people. His efforts have also helped prevent a financial collapse.
President Bush has not been our greatest President, or even a great president, but he has been a very, very good one, and given the gravity of the times in which he served, I anticipate history will reflect that. Seriously, what if Gore had recounted his way into the White House?
That’s the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears weekly.