Name one thing…


I write this on a day I’ve awaited for eight years: the final day of the George W. Bush presidency (also known as the Dick Cheney Vice Presidency). It’s hard to fathom how much has transformed over the past eight years, and thus I believe that Bush’s tenure will be regarded as one of the most important presidencies in American history. For all the wrong reasons, of course, but still important.

However, I struggle to find one thing I could point to as a clear success story. Every major accomplishment, legislation, appointment, or unilateral action undertaken by his administration seems like a mistake to me. I don’t write this to pile on, but rather as a sincere attempt to salvage one facet of the Bush presidency that I can point to as positive – I can certainly think of similar strengths of every other president in my lifetime, but I honestly cannot come up with anything that Bush has done that could be affirmed across the political spectrum. The closest I can get requires comparison with his successive neighbors:

  • He did not have an affair with an intern in the Oval Office. (Or at least he didn’t get caught.)
  • Per The Onion, he screwed things up bad enough to enable the election of a black President.

So I turn to my readers with a sincere request: can you name one thing emerging from the Presidency over the last 8 years that we can call a truly positive accomplishment, regardless of our politics?

Update: In looking over the first 4 suggestions, I’m struck by the need for a new metric – per the nature of the job, over the course of 8 years a president is bound to sign something that does some good, if only from necessity or accident. So let’s borrow a concept from baseball stats: VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, which assumes that an average player will generate some stats simply by accumulating at-bats or innings pitched. Hence you judge any player not on raw stats, but on how much above the performance that a random AAA player inserted into the lineup would yield.

So, let’s judge Bush for his Value Over Replacement President…

14 Responses to “Name one thing…”

  1. The usual answer for this that I’ve heard in the press a lot is that he put a lot of money into fighting AIDS in Africa. But (and with apologies, since you wanted an answer, not piling on) that money was all tied to abstinence education, and thus based on what is a remarkably patronizing, racist, and ultimately unfeasible solution. Better than nothing? The jury’s still out. So I’ll keep trying to think of something.

    In the meantime, my answer would be that he kicked off the richest era in American satire in a long time. That’s why Jeff, Ethan, and I dedicate our Satire TV book to him 🙂

  2. 2 Bill Kirkpatrick

    One problem is that even his positive accomplishments tend to suffer in comparison either to what others have done or what (imho) he should have been doing.

    For example, two weeks ago he officially protected large areas in the Pacific, which is an undeniably good thing for the marine life, coral reefs, etc. in those areas. Ergo, there you go: that is one positive thing he’s done! (Although it might not pass the test of being “affirmed across the political spectrum,” since there are a shocking number of anti-environmentalists out there.)

    But of course, even that positive step is just ludicrous underachievement given the scale of, in this case, the environmental challenges we face. So do we give him at least _some_ credit for that? And if we do give him credit for those ten-twenty things we could probably find that weren’t complete disasters, does it even matter given how horrendous his presidency has been?

    Maybe it does: as I feel lifted on a tide of optimism this week, I guess there is some comfort in knowing that even the worst president of all time got something right occasionally, if rarely.

  3. 3 samford

    Hmmmm…Per Wikipedia:

    In 2006 Bush declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, creating the largest marine reserve to date. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument comprises 84 million acres (340,000 km²) and is home to 7,000 species of fish, birds and other marine animals, many of which are specific to only those islands.[118] The move was hailed by conservationists for “its foresight and leadership in protecting this incredible area.”[119]

  4. 4 Matt

    His malaria initiative has, according to the BBC, halved instances of the disease in 15 African countries. Even Bob Geldof praised it.

  5. Thanks all – I’ve updated my request in my original post, as we need to measure Bush’s VORP.

  6. Well, by that metric, it’s like asking what I’d add to the Yankees. You’re asking us to rate a Wii Baseball player against the pros

  7. 7 Anonymous

    Eight turkeys were pardoned during his two administrations. Of course, that would probably mean more to me if I were a vegetarian.

  8. 8 Matt

    Sorry, didn’t mean for that comment to be anonymous. Damned default field.

  9. 9 Joan Neuberger

    I have a very hard time giving Bush credit for anything but he’s been a consistent supporter of efforts to limit human trafficking, especially sex trafficking. I really don’t know if this support has been accompanied by the kind of policies that accompany HIV-AIDS funding, and it certainly is only a drop in a large bucket, but, it is a good thing.

  10. 10 Jane

    He is the foremost condition of John Stewart’s success.

  11. In the same vein as Jane, the mere existence of GW has done wonders for comedy. From the Bushisms websites on the internet in 2000, to SNL’s Will Farrell (Strategery), Bush is fun to make fun of.

    In all seriousness, I honestly can’t think of anything positive that was politically meaningful.

  12. I guess we can add that he didn’t make any egregious last-minute pardons.

  13. George – true, it’s not a totally innocent pardon, but given the possibility of Libby, Rove, Gonzalez, and preemptive pardons across the board, I’ll give it to him.

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