I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him

>> Monday, April 26, 2010

The former President offers intimate, unprecedented details about his decision to quit drinking, his discovery of faith, and his relationships with his family. He writes honestly and directly about his flaws and mistakes, as well as his historic achievements in reforming education, providing life-saving treatments for HIV/AIDS and malaria for millions of people in Africa, safeguarding the country from another terrorist attack, and other areas.
-Crown Publishing Press Release,
April 25th, 2010
announcing the publication for President George W. Bush's upcoming memoir, Decision Points.


And no, I won't be reading this one, though I suspect it'll be better-written than Palin's godawful "memoir." (Who says Sarah Palin has never had an abortion? It's called Going Rogue. I'm sorry. That was inappropriate, wasn't it? Was that inappropriate? Whatever. I thought it, I typed it, I'm not taking it back.)

Anyway, the obvious response when I read the paragraph excerpted above in an AP item in Salon was, "Mistake Number One: running for President." (And, as an aside: if you go read that AP piece and the Crown Publishing press release, they're basically identical. Which says to me I entered the wrong line of work if I could get paid to be a journalist just by cutting and pasting press releases. I mean, what the fuck? This is pretty much "journalism" by way of acting like a baleen whale--hold your mouth open and let crap get caught in your cheeks. Lazy-ass reporters. Sheesh.) Anyway, that was the obvious response, but that didn't seem totally fair.

Because, as the Bard said in the remainder of the bit from Julius Caesar that makes up the title of this post, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." George W. Bush was probably the worst President in American history--and that's only because he's neck-and-jowly-neck right now with Richard Milhous Nixon in a fight for king of the muck at the bottom of the latrine pit, honestly.

But that doesn't mean he didn't do anything right. Even Nixon went to China and signed SALT I and the ABM Treaty--the beginnings of détente with the Soviets; and in an attempt to be really fair, let's acknowledge here and now that these were policy initiatives that JFK or LBJ couldn't have attempted... okay, so we also have to point out that they couldn't and Nixon could because he was a red-baiter in the '50s so Democrats couldn't reach out to Communist powers because of people like Nixon and Nixon could because he'd established his rabid anti-communist creds by trashing people like Helen Douglas... still. He done a good thing. Eventually.

So here's the point: just because Bush was either the worst or second-worst President in American history doesn't mean we can't leaven the bread a little by acknowledging the things he did that were reasonably okay or even good, and a full appreciation of the historical record means being able to say, "Okay, so he was a shitty POTUS, but at least he _____." And that's the game we're going to play if you're game: list one of George Walker Bush's mistakes and something that can be listed in his plus column as reasonably counting as an achievement.

I'll get us started:


MISTAKE:
Deciding to run for President despite a lack of obvious qualifications or experience beyond a tenure as Governor of Texas and corporate experience running a series of businesses into the ground.


ACHIEVEMENT:
Designating 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as a conservation area, protecting umpteen marine species for future generations.


Now, if you're going to play--and maybe you don't want to and you certainly don't have to, but I think it's a fun way to stretch the brain a little--some rules:

1) This is about George W. Bush. It is not about Barack Obama. It is not about Bill Clinton. Nor is it about Millard Fillmore. No other past or present President should be mentioned unless it is to provide specific context but not comparison--i.e. you can mention a former President if George Bush succeeded or failed by continuing, expanding, or abandoning that President's policy, but not to complain that he's getting a raw deal in comparison to some other President.

Bush deserves the raw deal.

2) This is an exercise in open-mindedness. A comment about how Bush sucks and you can't think of anything he did right (or about how awesome he was and why do I keep picking on him when he shat ponies and burped rainbows) is understandable but not that interesting in this context. Try to think of the one time you had to say, "Fine, that was a good call... son-of-a-bitch," the one time you said, "Fine, a broken watch is right twice a day," the time you said, "Okay... but he's still a jackass."

3) Be specific. Links are helpful (and if you still don't know how to embed a link in text, take a look at this page, or at least learn how to use bit.ly or something). Mistakes or failures should be something (a) Bush had a choice about and (b) something he had a choice about. "Being born" was his mother's choice, not his, and "saved America from a terrorist attack" is horseshit. (But if you can name a specific successful policy that might have contributed to that, have at it.)

4) While conversation is normally wonderful, I think the interesting thing for this thread would be to keep it in a "Mistake: _____ Success: _____" format. If there are some interesting responses, I'll start another thread for it for people to debate whether something was really a mistake or really a success, but for now this is kind of a brainstorming activity more than it is a debate. Try to stick to the format.

5) In the spirit of the above, I'll consider deleting comments that don't stick to the rules. Not saying for sure if I will or won't--I like interesting conversation and I hate deleting comments, but I can also see this thing getting way off target really fast.

Most of the people who frequent Giant Midgets lean left with a few exceptions, and I think most of those exceptions actually weren't too happy with Bush when he left office, either. But I think all the regulars around here strive for open-mindedness most of the time, and I know a few have written blog posts talking about their efforts to see multiple sides of things. That's the spirit of this thing, a post-mortem enumeration of the good that Bush did that I tend to think will be buried with him, though I could be wrong.

Takers?

9 comments:

CS Norman Monday, April 26, 2010 at 4:45:00 PM EDT  

Mistake:

Walked away from Afghanistan at critical juncture so he could focus on Iraq, where a bad guy was in charge but Al Quaeda was marginal at best.

Achieve:

Regulated emissions from construction equipment: Nonroad Diesel regs

Shelley

Janiece Monday, April 26, 2010 at 6:04:00 PM EDT  

You and your rules. Christ.

Alright, alright.

Mistake:

Selecting a series of yes-men for cabinet positions whose grasp of reality (and the law) were questionable at best. See: John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfield, and especially Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney. I found this particularly egregious because one of the "skills" he ran on was an ability to select high quality, smart subordinates. Um, not so much.

Achievement:

Tripled funding for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis in Africa.

Rachael Monday, April 26, 2010 at 6:12:00 PM EDT  

Mistake:
No Child Left Behind, which sounds nice on paper but includes impossible to enforce policies (such as wanting every child in America to show up for school ready to learn) and showed a complete disregard for children who have learning disabilities. Also, tying school funding directly to test schools was a nice kidney punch to the education of children in already impoverished school districts.

Achievement:
In 2002, he signed a bill to double the NSF's budget over the next five years. I certainly won't complain about that.

Leanright,  Monday, April 26, 2010 at 6:12:00 PM EDT  

Oh, I wanna play! I wanna play!

(Can I respond without being ripped to shreds?)

Mistake: Supporting the TARP plan which has become one of the worst economic mistakes which continues today. That money was to be used for "T"oxic "A"ssets, not bailouts of automakers, and other failing businesses.

Achievement: 2003, recommending an overhaul of the housing finance committee, which, if done, could have averted the entire mortgage crisis. Sadly, Barney Frank, the Ranking Dem on the committe stated that there was no financial crisis facing Fannie & Freddie.

(I believe there were others, but I'm only using one right now)

http://tinyurl.com/cmf3u8

David Monday, April 26, 2010 at 8:39:00 PM EDT  

Mistake: Expanding the power of the executive far beyond anything envisioned by the Founding Fathers or (since a lot of things these days were never envisioned by guys who died 200 years ago) countenanced by any rational reading of the Constitution. There is NO "Decider" in the US Constitution, dammit.

Achievement: Signing the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, a bipartisan bill that forced food manufacturers to clearly label what is in their products so my daughter has at least a head's up before going into anaphylactic shock.

Eric Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 9:20:00 AM EDT  

Alright, I'm removing all comments that aren't directly on topic and amending this one. I'm leaving Dave's shot at Barney Frank but I'm admonishing everybody: cheap shots aren't really the point of this.

A bunch of people have posted good ones. Let's see if anyone can come up with some more, okay. And consider the spirit of the exercise and not just the letter of the law, maybe?

-----

Mistake:

Vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would have allowed research on human stem cells that would be otherwise discarded anyway, and publicly (and perhaps disingenuously) pointed to his Executive Order lifting the ban on use of existing lines despite the fact those lines are probably completely useless, thus dealing a major setback to a number of promising avenues in medicine.

Achievement:

Notwithstanding unreasonable criticisms from some hardliners, handled the crash and capture of an American spyplane in Chinese territory with surprising deftness, allowing both sides to save face and getting the U.S. out of an ugly situation at the cost of little more than a vaguely-worded apology and a few thousand dollars.

CS Norman Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 9:33:00 AM EDT  

Mistake: Broke the economy

Achieve: Took sex trafficking of kids in particular more seriously than anyone has for a long while: CEOS

Shelley

Rachael Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 3:51:00 PM EDT  

Okay, it's a new day. Let's see if I can come up with another one.

Mistake:
He established the Officer of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, because there can just never be too many ways to give tax payer money to religious institutions.

Achievement:
He signed SORT, which continued the ongoing nuclear disarmament of the US and Russia.

Eric Friday, April 30, 2010 at 6:08:00 PM EDT  

I'd like to thank everybody who participated! Although there were a couple of glitches that never need be mentioned again, on the whole I think this was a wonderful thread and I wanted everybody to know that. Folks were able to come up with things that I'd forgotten or never heard of in the first place, and so this was wonderfully educational for me.

Thank you!

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