The popularity of a president is notoriously fickle. Put your stock in polling and you can get a good sense of how the general public feels about the nation’s 43rd president right now. But is he really the boogeyman he has been portrayed to be? The arbiter of all things evil and wrong with our country? Is there nothing good to his credit? History will be the ultimate judge, but we would argue that despite the “all-time low” ranking, it is not reflective of what this “unpopular” president has really accomplished during his eight-year presidency. Furthermore, politicians on the right and left who continue to capitalize on the president’s mistakes for political fodder could do so to their detriment.
For a little perspective, consider that Mr. Bush had very high poll ratings (80 percent to 90 percent) throughout his first term. This is a president who inherited a recession, was rocked by corporate scandal, led in the midst of the worst terrorist attack on our nation and went to war. He also grew the economy, reduced unemployment to still record-levels, increased literacy rates, grew minority homeownership and small businesses, kept terrorists at bay, toppled a sadistic regime and reformed Medicare.
In 2004, Mr. Bush was re-elected with a 50.7 percent vote margin, including the support of 95 percent to 98 percent of the Republican electorate. He was determined to “spend his political capital.”
Love him or hate him, he’s been decisive and principled.
Today, the Democrats (including Barack Obama) bandy the word “Bush” as the worst insult one can receive (particularly when insisting a McCain presidency would be “a third Bush term.”) It is almost understandable that Democrats would seize on the opportunity, but their visceral disdain couldn’t be more smug, condescending and out of the realm of decency: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called President Bush “incompetent” and a “liar”; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently called the president “a total failure.”It seems there is absolutely no shame and no limit to cutting down a sitting president.
Interestingly, the criticism comes from a Congress whose approval rating is not only lower than the president’s but also for the first time in history is in single digits. Do lawmakers have any culpability?
First lady Laura Bush had it right when asked about the verbal assaults on her husband by CNN’s Larry King earlier this year. Mr. King: “You don’t like the way the Clinton-Obama campaign has been run, you mean?” Mrs. Bush: “No, no, the way they talk about the president.” Mr. King: “Oh?” Mrs. Bush: “For somebody who wants to be the president, I think maybe it’s a good idea not to talk about the president that way. But anyway, that’s my advice to them.”
At the time of her interview, Mrs. Bush also applauded “her candidate” (John McCain) for not going down that same critical road, but she apparently spoke too soon. Mr. McCain has joined the fray. His speech last month to the National Urban League was just one recent example of criticizing his own party’s president with impunity: “Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years, because the Congress and this administration have failed to meet their responsibilities,” Mr. McCain said. And this week Mr. McCain stated: “We’re worse off than we were four years ago.” To mercilessly use the president’s failings for your own political gain is not only distasteful, but a disgrace. Since Republicans lost the majority in Congress in 2006, every evil under the sun is attributed to Mr. Bush. Take some responsibility for your own actions (and inaction).
Granted, much of Mr. Bush’s general standing among the public was lost after Hurricane Katrina, difficulties in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, failure to pass immigration reform and the most recent mortgage and energy realities. Yet, even now, the president has spearheaded the successful surge in Iraq and he may yet transform the Middle East as no one before him has ever done. The president also has a domestic record that he can be proud of - from literacy and faith-based initiatives to judicial appointments and tax cuts. That record also includes the moral restoration of the presidency after years of the embarrassing Clinton scandals.
Mr. Bush has kept his word. Something that cannot always be said of the two current presidential contenders. What they can say, is what most of our mothers taught us: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
And while anti-Bush Web sites incessantly mock him with the moniker “worst president in history,” at least more than one historian has noted: History cannot be judged in the midst of it. We are still in the midst of the Bush presidency.
By Rand Paul
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