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Column: Judging The Bush Legacy

This story was written by Jong Eun Lee, The Eagle


After eight years, George W. Bush's administration is finally coming to an end. As someone who has both respected and criticized President Bush throughout the years, I have been thinking for some time how I will judge his legacy. While Bush's presidency will continue to be controversial, for me these eight years have demonstrated Bush's failure at centrism; a seemingly strategic amalgamation of policies across the political spectrum has led to an unsustainable, circumscribed political philosophy that perhaps manifested the worst of both political ideologies.

Bush initially came to office promising an era of new kind of "compassionate" conservatism. Unlike many traditional conservatives, Bush appeared keen on using the federal government as a force for common good, promising improvements in education, poverty and immigration. In his foreign policy, Bush used rhetoric to champion both nationalist and humanitarian objectives, advocated the War on Terror as well as an expansion of global democracy.

While a part of the affluent upper class, Bush seemed credible for a while in his populist appeal, resonating with the average populace of heartland America. Had he been successful, Bush may very well have established his own unique "conservative populism" that combined elements of both conservative and liberal ideologies, perhaps even creating a new political alignment.

However, Bush's hybrid political philosophy failed to become the unifying national ideology he may have envisioned. In fact, most liberals found his philosophy to be quite repulsive, while conservatives became deeply divided as a result of his policies. Why? Why have so many rebuked Bush's presidency as unprincipled, exclusive and unfulfilling? While there may be many explanations, my take on it is that perhaps, rather than finding common ground between liberals and conservatives, Bush's presidency showed both sides the extent to which wrong leadership can distort their own ideologies.

For liberals who may have agreed in principle with several of Bush's domestic policies - such as Medicare and No Child Left Behind - the reality has been that Bush's big government wasn't the big government they have envisioned. To liberals' dismay, the expansion of federal power led to wiretapping and alleged torture, all done in the name of the common good. Under Bush's administration, perhaps we liberals saw a mockery of our own ideology, witnessing a government that has subverted our own rhetoric/policies to advance an agenda quite different from our own vision.

Bush did not win the confidence of the left and his pandering has undermined his own conservative achievements. Conservative tax cuts, combined with liberal spending, if anything, skyrocketed federal deficits. Bush's latest bailout of Wall Street was essentially a welfare handout, except given to corporations and not to poor. Far from shrinking D.C. as traditional conservatives envisioned, Bush's presidency has demonstrated a type of conservatism that utilizes and perhaps is even dependent on D.C.'s resources. Is this the ideal harmony of the two ideologies?

Certainly it is unfair for Bush to be blamed for all the problems of these past eight years. While his judgments may not have been always correct, I do believe Bush has displayed initiatives in standing for what he believes, sometimes even against his own immediate political interest. However, Bush has failed to leave behind an enduring legacy of his own political philosophy. Far from transforming national politics, Bush's conservatism has failed to produce effective governance in its key policies and is now repudiated by both parties.

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