. . .it does need to be said: he was a terrible president, arguably the worst ever, and not just for the reasons many others are pointing out.
From what I’ve read, most of the pushback against revisionism focuses on just how bad Bush’s policies were, from the disaster in Iraq to the way he destroyed FEMA, from the way he squandered a budget surplus to the way he drove up Medicare’s costs. And all of that is fair.
But I think there was something even bigger, in some ways, than his policy failures: Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.
Think about his two main “achievements”, if you want to call them that: the tax cuts and the Iraq war, both of which continue to cast long shadows over our nation’s destiny. The key thing to remember is that both were sold with lies.
I suppose one could make an argument for the kind of tax cuts Bush rammed through — tax cuts that strongly favored the wealthy and significantly increased inequality. But we shouldn’t forget that Bush never admitted that his tax cuts did, in fact, favor the wealthy. Instead, his administration canceled the practice of making assessments of the distributional effects of tax changes, and in their selling of the cuts offered what amounted to an expert class in how to lie with statistics. Basically, every time the Bushies came out with a report, you knew that it was going to involve some kind of fraud, and the only question was which kind and where.
And no, this wasn’t standard practice before. Politics ain’t beanbag and all that, but the president as con man was a new character in American life.
Even more important, Bush lied us into war. Let’s repeat that: he lied us into war. I know, the apologists will say that “everyone” believed Saddam had WMD, but the truth is that even the category “WMD” was a con game, lumping together chemical weapons with nukes in an illegitimate way. And any appearance of an intelligence consensus before the invasion was manufactured: dissenting voices were suppressed, as anyone who was reading Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) knew at the time.
Why did the Bush administration want war? There probably wasn’t a single reason, but can we really doubt at this point that it was in part about wagging the dog? And right there you have something that should block Bush from redemption of any kind, ever: he misled us into a war that probably killed hundreds of thousands of people, and he did it in part for political reasons.
There was a time when Americans expected their leaders to be more or less truthful. Nobody expected them to be saints, but we thought we could trust them not to lie about fundamental matters. That time is now behind us — and it was Bush who did it.