As President Bush prepares to deliver his farewell address, I thought I’d offer my broad overview of why, I believe, he lost the support of the American people and how he failed conservatives.
Later, either today, tomorrow or this weekend, I may use the text of that address to focus on his accomplishments. Despite his many blunders, he did accomplish a good deal, notably in keeping us safe since 9/11 and in appointing two responsible, intelligent and eminently qualified jurists to the Supreme Court.
While Bush has been anything but a conservative on fiscal issues, I don’t regret my vote for him in 2000 and 2004. Given the alternatives, I know we’d be in worse shape had Al Gore or John Kerry won. Gore’s behavior since his loss has shown he lacks the temperament to lead. And Kerry was too beholden to liberal opinion to develop a coherent strategy to face the threats abroad.
Since I’m going to focus on Bush’s failings, let me alert you to Fred Barnes’s piece listing ten things, he believes, the president got right. I agree with him on most of those.
While we can find many little mistakes over the course of the president’s eight-year tenure, I believe that many (if not most) of them stem from two things, taking his popularity for granted in the wake of 9/11 and misreading the 2004 election returns.
After 9/11, just by (by and large) doing the right thing, his popularity skyrocketed and remained high through the summer of 2003, the same time he tapped a overly deferential man lacking in public relations skills as his Press Secretary. Simply put, Scott McClellan was the wrong man to handle a press corps eager to under George W. Bush.
Even as the press became increasingly combative in 2002 and 2003, the public continued to rally around the president. He didn’t think he needed do anything to remain in the good graces of the American people. So, he didn’t work hard enough to burnish his image and defend his policies in the wake of unrelenting attacks on his character and motives.
At the same time as he requested larger federal outlays to meet the terrorist threat, he didn’t do anything to restrain domestic spending. It would seem that a responsible steward of the public treasury would say, if we need more to pay for this program, we’re going to have to take less to pay for that.
Indeed, he would have risked the wrath of various interest groups had he called for drastic cuts in domestic spending, but given the public perception of the terrorist threat, he would have found a public more readily disposed to fiscal restraint. It might have cost him some of his short-term popularity, but it would have prevented him from losing support, later in his term, from fiscal conservatives.
As his popularity plunged in the last year of his first term, it seemed, at least to the left and the MSM, that he would lose his bid for his second term. But, when, to their surprise he won, he seemed to see his victory not so much as one for his party–and those who rallied around him–but for himself. He appointed many cronies to federal office, decent men all, but Bush loyalists first and foremost, many of whom, including the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who were out of their league in positions of executive authority.
One wonders why, despite the strong support Bush received from conservative legal luminaries in his reelection campaign, he did not tap such jurists for positions in his Justice Department.
So, the basic outline of Bush’s failures:
- Taking his popularity in the wake of 9/11 for granted and not doing enough to defend his character and promote his programs.Â (And as per Jack Goldsmith, this applies to the way he dealt with Congress.)
- Not realizing that the increased security expenditures in the wake of 9/11 should mean cuts from other areas of the budget.
- Seeing his reelection a a personal vindication and appointing cronies instead of competent conservatives to posts of power and influence.