We Shouldn’t Have to Remind People George W. Bush Was a Terrible President

The campaign to normalize the George W. Bush presidency is part of a broader campaign to separate the Republican Party from Donald Trump. We should reject the whole project, and call Bush what he is: a war criminal abroad and a villain at home.

Former US president George W. Bush speaks during the funeral service of the late Rep. John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Alyssa Pointer-Pool / Getty

In 2008, I wouldn’t have believed that a dozen years later I would have to explain to liberals that George W. Bush’s presidency was a parade of horrors and that he should not be looked upon with any amount of nostalgia.

Throughout the Trump presidency, we have seen numerous examples of establishment Democrats praising George W. Bush or even wishing he were president again.

The latest incident of Bush-related amnesia occurred after he announced the publication of a book containing portraits of new immigrants to this country. Doodles are now part of an effort to erase the failures of an administration whose track record was so horrible that the former president was not even welcome at Mitt Romney’s Republican convention.

The history of his administration is forever tied to its bloodlust for the war in Iraq — a criminal foreign policy failure that killed hundreds of thousands and created destabilization that continues to have ramifications throughout the region for decades to come.

It wasn’t simply Bush’s decision to go to war, but the climate his administration created here at home — where those who questioned this foreign policy blunder were, in today’s parlance, “canceled,” sometimes literally.

Going to war in Iraq was only the beginning. Once the invasion was complete, the occupation of Iraq demonstrated that the Bush administration was as incapable of governing as Donald Trump’s. This mishandling of the war was so bad that, by 2006, even the neocons who backed the war were becoming critical of the administration.

Kenneth Adelman, a member of Bush’s Defense Policy Board who said the invasion would be a “cake walk,” said, “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent.” He continued, “They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”

This incompetence was further put on display after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA head Michael Brown’s prior experience was that he was an official at the International Arabian Horse Association who happened to be friends with Bush’s 2000 campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.

At the height of his failure, with New Orleans underwater, George W. Bush praised “Brownie” saying he had done “a heck of a job.”

While Kanye West’s comments during a Katrina telethon that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” set off a media firestorm, it was not an isolated opinion. Political scientist Michael Fauntroy told NPR, “Who among us believes that the federal response would’ve been the same if we were talking about Austin, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Diego, California; or any other major city around the country with a majority white population? The most visceral, easy-to-understand explanation is race.”

It wasn’t just White House policies. The political strategies deployed by Karl Rove and the Bush team often relied on bigotry. While Dick Cheney actually backed marriage equality in the 2004 vice presidential debate and Bush favored civil unions, his 2004 campaign weaponized homophobia, juicing conservative turnout with ballot initiatives banning gay marriage.

Finally, George W. Bush and Donald Trump will be forever linked in history as having their biggest domestic policy success be passing tax cuts through Congress that fueled economic inequality in the country.

These examples are just the highlight reel.

Leaving the White House, Bush’s legacy was in such tatters that, for the most part, he has disappeared to Texas and spent his days painting. But there is a political project underway now to resurrect that legacy. It is less about George W. Bush than it is about the failures of the Republican Party as a whole. The small faction of Never Trump Republicans argues that, once he is gone, the GOP can return to being “your grandfathers’ Republican Party” and everything will return to normal.

This task can only be accomplished if we forget that these Never Trumpers are people who, to this day, continue to believe the George W. Bush presidency has been misjudged by history — that the invasion of Iraq was morally justified, and that the president’s response to Hurricane Katrina was misunderstood.

As Bernie Sanders pointed out in his speech at the Democratic National Convention this week, Donald Trump’s presidency is not “normal, and we must never treat it like it is.” The same holds true for George W. Bush, and we should never forget it.