Yesterday, we marked the fifteenth anniversary of the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and the mainstream media’s refusal to state the obvious—that Gore kicked Bush’s rear end in that debate. You’d figure that fifteen years later, the country would be unanimous in recognizing just how awful Bush was as president.

You’d figure wrong.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s debate-night defense of his brother George W. Bush’s presidential legacy — “He kept us safe” — drew a round of applause from the audience last week, followed by waves of derision from Democrats pointing to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Most GOP voters, like the debate audience, are on the Bushes’ side, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.

Eighty percent of Republican voters surveyed say they approve of George W. Bush’s tenure as president.

Their feelings toward Bush don’t quite match their admiration for Ronald Reagan — just 29 percent “strongly approve,” while 51 percent approve only somewhat. But 85 percent say that Bush did a “good” or “excellent” job of keeping the nation safe. Voters as a whole are less impressed, with the majority of Democrats and independents disapproving of his legacy.

GOP voters also say by a 4-point margin, 43 percent to 39 percent, that they’d vote for George W. Bush again in 2016 if he were eligible for a third term.

YouTube video

Back in January, I argued that progressives have an obligation to defend the multiple accomplishments of the Obama administration. Progressives also have an obligation to remind the public of just how truly awful the George W. Bush years were. In January 2009, Keith Olbermann did a great job of summarizing the savagery of the Bush years, as did Rachel Maddow, but it looks like their hard work has been forgotten.

Unless right-wing media entities are vigorously challenged by progressives, those entities could get away with spinning the Bush years as a success. The right has a vested interest in convincing the gullible that the Bush years were great for our nation; conservatives can’t exploit Ronald Reagan’s alleged accomplishments forever, as we are getting ever closer to a time when Reagan fades away from our country’s collective memory.

The right will do everything within its considerable power to promote the idea that Bush was sincere, a man of faith and conviction, a wise leader who “won” two wars, a man who defended traditional cultural values, a caring family man. The reality of Bush’s failures will be obscured. The divisiveness, the squashing of dissent, the daily lies, the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan and New Orleans…all of that will be tossed down the memory hole if progressives don’t push back and push back hard.

We must never forget the darkness that enveloped this country between January 20, 2001 and January 20, 2009. We must never forget the callousness of Cheney, the anger of Ashcroft, the recklessness of Rice, the wantonness of Wolfowitz, the prevarications of Powell, the rapaciousness of Rumsfeld. We must never forget being told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We must never forget “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” We must never forget that gay-bashing, Swift-Boating 2004 re-election campaign. We must never forget Samuel Alito, John Roberts and the ideologues appointed to the federal district and appellate courts. We must never forget the abandoning of the Kyoto Protocol and the censoring of climate science. We must never forget how EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill were chased out of the Bush administration for failing ideological purity tests. We must never forget Karl Rove. We must never forget those years of fear and smear.

The right will lie shamelessly to defend the George W. Bush years. It’s up to progressives to tell the truth, in perpetuity, about that pathetic President.

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D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.