W. Fans Come In From the Cold

You probably know that the campaign to rehabilitate the image of the 43d president of the United States has been launched with the opening of his presidential library. But like me, you may be surprised at how rapidly his maximum fans are making bold to make affection for him respectable again. With her usual knack for effrontery, Jennifer Rubin says it’s W. time again! A brief sample:

[M]any of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff — rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass.

And, it turned out that the triumvirate of Iraq-Iran-North Korea really was the Axis of Evil. Unlike the current president, who’s played politics with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, President Bush took huge political risks to back the surge in Iraq, which worked. He is responsible for one of the most popular and fiscally sober entitlement plans, Medicare Part D. He did not foist a grandiose unpopular and exorbitant program like Obamacare on the public. And then there were his tax cuts, 99 percent of which were approved by the most liberal president in history. Even the TARP program, reviled by conservatives, can be credited with helping to calm the markets and stabilize financial institutions.

Aside from the almost systematically dubious nature of Rubin’s tribute to Bush, it will be interesting to see if other conservatives follow. Their recent disdain for Bush, after all, was partly opportunistic (why saddle yourself with the downward trajectory of his presidency?) but partly ideological: according to a very frequently repeated (if sometimes indirect) conservative account, W. and his minions convinced Republicans to sell their birthright of ideological rigor for a mess of swing-voter pottage that failed politically as well as morally. It’s become something of a litmus test for “movement conservatives” to denounce No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the spending levels associated with W’s second term, everything he did or agreed to in response to the housing and financial disasters, along with the very rhetoric of “compassionate conservatism,” as serial betrayals of the Reagan Legacy by that great family of traitors, the Bushes. And many if not most conservatives consider the gradual accommodation of today’s Republicans to proposals for comprehensive immigration reform a fresh betrayal first performed by Bush, even if others consider it a painfully necessary adjustment to demographic reality.

In rejecting this rejection of the man nearly all conservatives once lionized as a world-historical colossus, Rubin places a lot of stock in W.’s rising approval ratings (nearly as high as Obama’s!), which is a universal phenomenon for former presidents, particularly those who do little or nothing to remind us of everything offensive or annoying they used to do every day. I suspect her revisionism is premature, even for Republicans. But one interested observer will undoubtedly be 43’s brother, whose own presidential aspirations have arguably been thwarted by the dynastic unseemliness of a third Bush candidacy, compounded by his own conservative movement’s palpable desire to throw the whole family under the bus.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.