Looking At George W. Bush Through Rose Colored Glasses


President George W. Bush has been a controversial figure over the last eight years. His second term as president ends on Jan. 20, 2009. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT)

Published: November 20, 2008

During his presidency, George W. Bush has received the lowest approval ratings of any United States president since this polling began nearly half a century ago. People love to hate him; he has been called stupid and evil, among other things. But I wonder how Bush will be remembered decades from now. There really is no telling. Presidents are not necessarily perceived in hindsight at all similarly to how they were perceived in the moment.

Bush got off to a bad start in 2000. Even though he won the electorate, he lost the popular vote, essentially forfeiting his claim to support from over half the nation. Although few people actually moved to France when he took office, many later wished they had. One of the first pieces of legislation he signed was No Child Left Behind, which is now very unpopular. After being in office for less than a year, Bush had to deal with an unexpected national disaster. And although his approval ratings skyrocketed following 9/11, conspiracy theories began to brew in 2002 about how much he really knew about the tragedy. Claims were rampant that 9/11 was “an inside job” or that Bush knew the attacks were coming. The USA PATRIOT Act, passed soon after 9/11, was seen as an encroachment on civil liberties and was met with criticism from both parties. In 2003, we went to war in Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction that were never found. In the past eight years, we have gone from having a surplus to having a huge budget deficit. These are things we remember of the presidency of Bush. But is that all there is to be remembered?

I am certainly not Bush’s biggest fan, but I do think he has been treated unfairly. A few days after the election, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, “I have seen President Bush show more loyalty than he has been given, more generosity than he has received. I have seen his buoyancy under the weight of malice and his forgiveness of faithless friends. Again and again, I have seen the natural tug of his pride swiftly overcome by a deeper decency—a decency that is privately engaging and publicly consequential.”

Already, Democrats are planning to investigate Bush’s administration. For the last eight years, he could be trusted to show up on that television screen with a heartfelt “My fellow Americans…” even after being met each day with nothing less than hatred from those same people he spoke to. There is no doubt in my mind that Bush is a true patriot who loves his country. We seem to hear only about his failures and nothing about his successes. Can we really call him evil, conniving and stupid? No Child Left Behind was a genuine attempt to stimulate education in America and encourage people to strive to a higher standard. This country lags behind the rest of the world in education. It may not be 100 percent successful or at all popular, but since No Child Left Behind was passed, the reading scores of fourth graders have increased to their highest level in 15 years, and the achievement gap between white and black children has narrowed significantly. Because of his passage of Medicare Part D, millions of seniors with low incomes are able to obtain prescription drugs at very low costs. 1.7 million people with AIDS and 2.7 million vulnerable children have received treatment or compassionate care due to Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Do these things not speak to Bush’s humanity?

After the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, this country came together in a startling way. There is a reason Bush’s approval ratings were above 80 percent following the attacks: he proved he was a strong and dependable leader. He acted quickly and forcefully and earned our trust, even if only temporarily. The USA PATRIOT Act was passed after a national crisis when we were attacked on our own soil from within our own country. The social contract theory of John Locke upon which our democracy is greatly based requires that citizens be willing to occasionally sacrifice liberties in order to enable the government to protect us. In an extreme situation such as the aftermath of 9/11, was not the sacrifice of some liberties warranted?

Since our invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, a ruthless dictator who committed countless crimes against humanity in his lifetime, has been captured and executed, and a more or less successful democracy with a flourishing economy has been established. The success of Bush’s hotly contested troop surge has finally been acknowledged. Iraq, a country depicted by the media as unstable and hopeless, is actually on the verge of peace. American casualties there are at a low.

Bush has had both the highest and lowest approval ratings of any president of the U.S. He was dealt a very difficult hand from the start of his presidency, beginning with 9/11. Soon after that, he made a decision, which any other president might have made with the evidence available, to go to war in Iraq. He has had many successes, both at home and oversees, that are never covered by the media or recognized by the public. I am crossing my fingers that something good happens for Bush in the next coming months. He is a decent man who walked into a very challenging situation. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think he deserves to be hated by following generations.