Buried down at the bottom of a long thread of comments on one of my recent Social Security posts, I got this note:
You guys are right. Your arguments have won me over to your side. Economics and real figures mean nothing to me now. The only thing that matters is 'Bush is evil and so is anything he endorses.' If his ideas had actually proven to be completely wrong, I might be somewhat disposed to truly agree with you guys. However, his initiatives like tax cuts, liberating Iraq, and the prevention of any domestic terror attacks since 9/11 are proven successes.
It's hard for me to make a convincing argument that I don't oppose Bush for partisan reasons, because everything he's done has been so objectionable. I could respect a traditional low-tax/small government Republican who ran a tight fiscal ship and placed an emphasis on personal responsibility, even if I might object to their social conservatism. But Bush is a low-tax/huge-government/big debt/fuzzy-math prevaricator with a severe Manichaean complex. And that's me being objective. If I want to get personal, he's a bigot who wants to discriminate against me in the Constitution.
His tax cuts were a success? I guess that depends on how you define their intent. In 2001, the tax cuts were sold as an aggressive way to rejuvenate the slowing economy. For all our buck, we didn't get much of a bang. Employment numbers are just now returning to pre-Bush levels, though a number of studies indicate the jobs being created aren't on par with the jobs that have been lost. The debt is still there. Well, actually, it's bigger. Defenders will say, "But we had 9/11 and the war on terrorism and corporate scandals and hurricanes," etc. Yes, we did. But a responsible President would tell voters and Congress, "Hey folks, we've got some problems right now, and it's going to cost us a little something to get through them." Now, Bush knows it costs something to get through these troubles, because he upped the spending. He just gave away the money he needed to pay for it.
If you buy something and put it on a credit card, there's interest. Well, there's interest on our debt, too (a scary amount of which is owned by China). It's going to cost us much more money in the long run to pay down this debt because of all the interest. For Republicans and Libertarians who chant, "Low taxes!", it's really in your best interest to raise taxes and pay this stuff off now, because the bill just keeps getting bigger. You'll have to pay for it someday. I can't believe that's not obvious.
So there's no evidence that Bush's enormous tax cuts helped the economy; over a four-year period, the economy might just have recovered on its own. In fact, it might have recovered faster and more robustly had we raised taxes. So how can they be considered a success?
They're a success if you like the "starve the beast" idea: reduce tax revenues so that the government will have to cut spending. You can see this played out in Bush's budget that came out this week: $15 billion in cuts for the environment, housing and heating programs, medical coverage for veterans, transportation, homeland security (yup), education programs and others. Against the federal debt, $15 billion is a drop in the swimming pool, but it has a severe impact on the effectiveness of these programs. Oh, Bush's budget includes additional tax cuts for top-tier earners.
It's far too early to be judging success in Iraq. The election was a big step in the right direction, but the credit goes to the Iraqi people for risking their lives to vote, not to George Bush who failed to provide adequate daily security. It's worth mentioning that we sponsored a democratic election in Vietnam in 1967, and look at all the good that did. The party of America's hand-picked president, Iyad Allawi, hasn't done nearly as well in early returns as the cleric-controlled Shiite coalition which is pro-Iran and favors a constitution based on Islamic law. A recent poll revealed that 92% of Iraqis view the US as "occupiers," not "liberators." Memo to Bush: a lot of those voters were voting for candidates who promised to get you out of Iraq.
Two years after our invasion, public works like sanitation and electricity have not returned to pre-war levels. As many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, according to one academic study. Fallujah has been flattened -- twice -- and a recent CIA report describes Iraq as a breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists. Almost $9 billion in US taxpayer money intended for Iraqi government ministries has been "misplaced."
If by success you mean that untold numbers of Iraqis -- many of whom are likely innocent -- have been tortured and sexually humiliated, okay. If by success you mean we sent our Secretary of State to the UN to make a presentation with phony evidence, okay. If by success you mean the Secretary of Defense can say, "We know where they are," referring to WMDs in Iraq and still have his job after Bush's investigators concluded that the UN and Clinton got rid of them by 1998, then okay. If by success in the war on terror you mean that not a single 9/11-related trial has been successfully prosecuted, okay. If you mean success by not knowing where bin Laden is producing his community-access public service announcement videos, then okay.
As far as I'm concerned, it's too early to call.
It's a fair point to make that the US has not had any terrorist attacks since 9/11. But then, America didn't suffer any domestic terrorist attacks at the hand of radical Muslims after the 1993 attack while Clinton was in charge, either. And I don't know where this poster lives, but I can guarantee you he doesn't ride the subway in New York City. I don't know anyone who doesn't feel vulnerable there. Chemical and nuclear plants have been given voluntary guidelines about safeguarding from a terrorist attack. No one has volunteered. Just yesterday, Slate Magazine discovered how easy it is to create a fake boarding pass for a commercial airline using the internet. So much for the no-fly list, which grounded Senator Kennedy and Cat Stevens. The lists created by public watchdog agencies of America's terrorist vulnerabilities are staggering. Departing Homeland Security head Tom Ridge said he was surprised no one has attacked our food supply yet.
So if you want to call all that a "success," fine. From where I sit, George W. Bush is a failure of catastrophic proportions.