The Forgotten, Toxic Legacy of George W. Bush

I was struck today remembering the 2004 election—the first one in which I could vote—and how often Bill Clinton was on the radio, or TV, or print publications. Back in those days, all former presidents had an elder-statesman shtick where you promoted HIV awareness or nuclear treaties or the like. Ford, Carter and Reagan, before he fell ill, were in the club. (Even Nixon did the Frost interviews, traveled the world, and wrote nine books.) Clinton joined up in 2001, and even partnered with Bush I on various things. Being the youngest and most recent former president he was naturally a fixture in the political landscape.

George W. Bush has broken this tradition. He has disappeared from the national stage faster than any former president in modern history. The Democrats, inexplicably, have let this happen.

But his legacy, like some colossal millstone, lies heavily on this country. Our new ebook is about why we can’t let the man be forgotten. As Steve Benen explains in the introduction, Romney has repudiated none of the Bush program:

It’s not that Romney just hasn’t gotten around to explaining the differences between his economic vision and Bush’s; it’s that there are no differences. Shortly before the 2012 Olympics began, NBC’s Brian Williams sat down with the former Massachusetts governor and asked, “The major planks of your job plan … Explain how that would be different from what George W. Bush tried to push through?” Romney didn’t even try to answer the question. Instead, he repeated the talking points of his stump speech: he’ll “get this economy going” by way of drilling, trade, deficit reduction, education, and low taxes. This is, more or less, a description of Bush’s economic policy—though Romney intends to go further with Draconian domestic spending cuts. By dodging Williams’s question, the candidate simply reinforced the underlying point.

On foreign policy, the similarities are nearly as striking. Romney has surrounded himself with veterans of the Bush administration—including thoroughly discredited voices like Dan Senor and John Bolton, whose failures on U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere are the stuff of legend. He has made no secret of his desire to restore the Bush/Cheney vision in this area as well.

During Romney’s calamitous overseas trip this summer, he told a right-wing Israeli newspaper that the Arab Spring was a mistake. “Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture,” Romney said, “but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.”

In other words, Bush’s foreign policy is gone, but not forgotten, and may soon return. The “freedom agenda” Bush/Cheney embraced as a post hoc rationalization for the war in Iraq is, according to Romney, the ideal blueprint for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East going forward.

The Washington Monthly has been dedicated to the kind of clearsighted, courageous journalism that was not much in evidence during the Bush years. Our ebook collection is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or available for free with a subscription.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is national correspondent for the Week, and a former web editor for the Washington Monthly.