Bad as he wants to be

BAD AS HE WANTS TO BE…. In most respects, the seven remaining weeks of George W. Bush’s presidency offer him something of an opportunity. No, he probably won’t be working with lawmakers on any last-minute legislation, but the president still has the power to make policy changes, and leave on a high note, if he wants to.

Of course, he doesn’t want to.

Yesterday, President Bush issued an executive order “that denies collective bargaining rights to about 8,600 federal employees who work in law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies responsible for national security.” 900 of the employees affected were already represented by collective bargaining units. Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that employees “had their collective bargaining rights stripped away for no justifiable reason.”

I mention this for a couple of reasons. The first is to point out the obviously awful development itself, which Bush easily could have avoided.

But just as importantly, it occurs to me that the post-election period offers us a chance to see the real George W. Bush. He knows full well that he’ll leave the White House as one of the least popular presidents in modern American history, and Bush also realizes that the decisions he makes now probably won’t affect his standing with the public.

But with that comes a degree of freedom — Bush doesn’t have to do anything right now that he doesn’t want to do. He’s got nothing to prove, no one to impress, and no incentive to do anything for anyone. In the abstract, this dynamic might even be liberating. He could show us some of that “compassionate conservatism,” and if the GOP base starts whining, Bush could blow them off without consequence.

And what do we see from this Bush, unencumbered by expectations and campaign politics? We see a series of regulatory changes, nefarious executive orders, and staff burrowing, all of which undermine Americans’ interests in a variety of unhelpful ways.

Bush doesn’t have to do these things; he wants to do these things. This is the real Bush.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.