Tuesday, June 15, 2021
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The Bush legacy — vision without follow-through

If President George W. Bush’s many initiatives actually lived up to the promise behind them, I’d probably be one of his biggest supporters.

After all, the Bush presidency is one of great vision. Whether that vision entails hope or catastrophe is largely in the eye of the beholder, but no one can rightly accuse the president of not having a plan.

Though I am, admittedly, a critic of the Bush administration, I nonetheless concede that a number of its policies (the crass attempt to federalize the gay marriage issue notwithstanding) were well-intentioned and probably seemed like sound solutions at the time they were conceived.

The problem, therefore, is not with the ideas themselves but with the follow-through. As the events of the past four years have illustrated, sloppy execution and a lack of attention to detail can doom even the most benevolent propositions.

The 2001 tax cuts are a prime example of this principle. Given the federal surpluses and the declining nature of the economy at the time, tax cuts were entirely the appropriate measure to take.

The Bush tax cuts, however, were top-heavy.

According to the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org, half of all individuals and families got less than $470 and some taxpayers received nothing at all.

And, while it can be argued that the tax rates the ultra-wealthy were subjected to prior to the cuts were indeed excessive, the notion that they should be granted relief ahead of middle-class Americans is insultingly elitist.

A similar critique can be applied to the ongoing situation in Iraq. Even after all that has transpired there, I maintain my belief that we are right to be there.

Saddam Hussein is a violent thug, and the use of force to remove him was wholly appropriate, U.N. approval be damned.

Once again, however, having the right idea and executing it properly are not one and the same.

Going on the offensive in Iraq was nothing if not poorly timed. We were still engaged militarily in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden remained on the loose. The state of intelligence on Iraq at the time was also suspect and much of what the Bush administration relied on proved to be false.

In planning the war, the Bush administration ignored the advice of reluctant experts such as Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and allowed itself to be bullied by the likes of Ken Adelman, a politician-turned-columnist who insisted that “liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.”

As such, planning for the rushed offensive did not adequately take into account the resistance that would arise once Saddam was deposed.

Finally, the administration erred in selling the war to the public. Rather than making a strong case based on Saddam’s atrocities, it shot itself in the foot by employing multiple shaky rationales, such as a virtually non-existent link between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Bush’s other notable anti-terror initiative, the Patriot Act, also fell short of the bar. After Sept. 11, the need to prioritize security and integrate intelligence between government agencies became crucial and the Patriot Act seemed a great idea in this regard.

At the same time, however, it provided for the legalization of measures that flagrantly violate the Bill of Rights (such as secret trials and delayed notification of searches) and drew together such unlikely allies as former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga) and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Like all socialist “greater good” arguments, the idea that these concrete rights should be sacrificed in the name of national security is an affront to our history of individual liberty.

Even the No Child Left Behind Act, the bedrock of Bush’s compassionate conservatism, failed to live up to expectations.

While I personally believe that education funding is better spent at the state rather than the federal level, it was nice to see something done about the rapid decline of public education.

Yet the Act, has amounted a great expenditure (more than a 41 percent increase in Title I aid since 2001) without a booming increase in school performance.

Meanwhile, less-advantaged schools (such as Oasis Elementary School in California) find themselves unable to meet the Act’s rigid criteria.

In a nutshell, the Bush administration has proven reluctant to focus on the minutiae of governance, preferring instead to focus on the bigger picture.

And, while having a broad vision is a good foundation from which to build, a lack of follow-through has produced widespread failure.

As long as the Bush administration continues to ignore statistics, trends, factoids and other details, its “big picture” will remain just that: a picture and not a reality.


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