Some legacies can’t be ‘restored’

SOME LEGACIES CAN’T BE ‘RESTORED’…. A few years ago, Chris Matthews said, on the air, that “everybody sort of likes” George W. Bush, except for “the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left.” Nearly five years later, we’re still hearing similar talk — Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said this week that Bush “will go down as a very, very good president,” adding that the former president deserves support from anyone “who is not a rank political hack.”

Perry’s remarks, ridiculous though they may be, were not an example of isolated nonsense. Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) was roundly applauded when he praised Bush at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this month. A College Republican chapter in Kentucky this week created an annual “W Day.”

And just the other day, Slate ran a piece profiling the efforts of the “Bush Restoration Project.”

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro talks about George W. Bush the way Buddhists talk about the Dalai Lama. “He stands for truth, compassion and freedom,” he says. “Bush instinctively sees the global picture that every living person has the right to be free.” It’s hardly surprising, then, that Shapiro founded Honor Freedom, an organization devoted to restoring Bush’s reputation. […]

To listen to Shapiro is to travel back in time to 2003, when present-day critics like David Frum were calling Bush “The Right Man.” Even now, Shapiro’s defense of the Bush administration’s record in Iraq is pretty much unqualified. Bush’s critics “are selfish people who don’t see the value of national liberation,” he says. “They are isolationists who don’t care that the U.S. freed a people enslaved by fear.” To charges the Bush is unintelligent, he says: “Bush is clearly very smart. And you don’t need to be a genius to be president — you need good leadership skills and good instincts.” To the rap that his economic record is woeful, Shapiro says that Bush was a foreign-policy president.

Shapiro, it’s worth noting, “says he regularly exchanges e-mail with Karl Rove.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Bush’s unwavering supporters created their own reality during his presidency; there’s probably no reason for them to take a more reasonable course now.

But I’m hard pressed to imagine how Bush’s failed presidency can be made to look like anything other than a spectacular debacle. Consider some of the messes he left for his successor to clean up: an economy in freefall, two costly and mismanaged wars, a deteriorating job market, a crushing debt, enormous budget deficits, terrorist threats, a dysfunctional health care system, a housing crisis, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, a deteriorating national reputation on the global stage, and systemic problems on energy, immigration, and detainees.

Ask even Bush’s most loyal sycophants to name actual accomplishments, they’ll generally point to tax cuts and 9/11. But tax cuts didn’t help the economy — during Bush’s two terms, incomes fell, poverty rose, and there were two recessions — and the attacks of Sept. 11 weren’t an “accomplishment.”

That said, if Republicans see value in debating the Bush/Cheney legacy going forward, I don’t imagine most Democrats would mind.