Much of George W. Bush’s second term in office was spent trying to convince the American public that George W. Bush’s first term had really been a success. After fumbling opportunities to govern effectively by attempting to privatize social security, appoint his personal lawyer to the Supreme Court, and oh yeah, Hurricane Katrina the Bush administration went into legacy mode. It became evident after Hurricane Katrina that not only was Kanye West right (George Bush did not in fact care about black people) but he was also really bad at his job.
During the 2004 election, the Bush campaign managed to convince a majority of Americans that this whole governing business was really, really hard and even though the largest attack on American soil in the history of the United States had happened on his watch, his economic policies of tax cuts, tax cuts, and even more tax cuts had failed, and the fact that he led us into a war that would wind up killing more people than had been killed in his previous debacle in governing, 9/11, George W. Bush was actually an okay guy and hey, he was trying his best not to mess this thing up any further. Campaign commercials said that we were “turning the corner” in Iraq and Darth Vader, I mean Dick Cheney continually reminded us that contrary to popular belief the insurgency in Iraq was really in its “last throws” (whatever that means.)
The Bush administration was actually really, really good at something that the previous administration was not all that good at – damage control. It wasn’t until late in 2007 that George W. Bush got really horrible approval ratings dooming his would-be successor John McCain into an embarrassing loss to a Black guy in the 2008 election. I will always argue that George W. Bush was not a total net negative for America or American history because without him Barack Obama could have never become President. As we have seen over the previous four years, the American people are much more racist than we give them credit for. Had it not been for the abysmal performance of a failed businessman in the White House we probably wouldn’t have been so desperate to elect anyone who wasn’t colossally incompetent.
Barack Obama showed us that things were so bad in America that we could take huge chances on unknown quantities because it would have been quite difficult for things to get any worse than they already were. Think about it for a minute, this is a guy who won a Presidential election with one word slogans. Words like: “change” and “hope” were rallying cries for a new generation of Americans to pick up the mantle of leadership that had been decimated by our parent’s generation. From 2009 to 2012 America forgot that George W. Bush had been President. Like a binge-drinking experience that leaves one praying that what had happened the night before had not indeed happened, Americans simply erased George W. Bush from their memory like he were a lover that they had jumped into bed with only to discover that he left us with Chlamydia in the morning.
Then, early in 2013, George W. Bush re-emerged from Dick Cheney’s bunker and reminded us that he hadn’t died as most of us had assumed, he had in fact simply been painting for the last couple of years. Painting is probably what George W. Bush should have devoted his life to in the first place as that would have undoubtedly led to far less blood loss, but as many Americans have learned by living through the Bush administration we can’t change the past. We have thus had to reconcile ourselves with the fact that this man, George W. Bush, somehow made his way into the White House and much like the stains left their by his predecessor it would be no easy task to remove the stains from the carpets.
Thus we find ourselves in the predicament that we face today. Was George W. Bush really President? Well, sure if you want to count asterisks. I mean, Barry Bonds did technically hit more home runs than any other player in baseball history but is it a coincidence that he just happened to end his career a little more than a year before George W. Bush political career would come to an end? I think history will be the judge. One indisputable fact however is that like Barry Bonds, bringing up the name of George W. Bush can only lead to angry disputes and misremembered history. Sure, one or two people will have positive stories about these guys. The guy who caught Barry Bonds’s 756th home run ball was well compensated after all and there were a ton of reporters that made a lot of money by digging up the truth behind the myriad scandals that the Bush administration perpetuated, but we will hardly look back at these moments in our history and say that back then we were proud to be associated with these men. After all, anyone who went to Paris after 2004 can tell you that it was next to impossible to go anywhere without wearing a “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kerry” t-shirt.
What has happened since George W. Bush’s removal from power in 2009 is somewhat remarkable. His approval ratings have gone up only slightly from the lowest recorded approval ratings of an American President since Gallup introduced their poll. The idea that history removes the stains of history has worked far better for President Clinton than it has for George W. Bush and although there are many reasons for this (the first and foremost reason being that Clinton was actually a good President) the reasoning behind Bush’s still-low approval ratings are simple: history reveals as much about the past as much as it tends to alter our perception of it. Sure there will be a small percentage of Americans who will buy the t-shirt that shows a picture of George W. Bush along with the question: “miss me yet?” Most Americans however will continue to remember George W. Bush for the same reason Harry Potter fans remember Voldemort; he’s that guy that left that awful looking scar on our face.