The dedication of the George W. Bush library brigngs into focus the need to end the practice of each president establishing his own library. These libraries distrort history because no president if going to highlight major failures on his/her watch. Laura Bush has already spoken of the spin Bush supporters will put on the library’s purpose: “It will provide a window to the difficult decisions the president had to make.” Putting the focus on how difficult the decisons were means that you don’t need to explain if the decisions were necessary, were they the right decisions and what were the consequences of these decisions.
Laura Bush has also said that when people wanted helping hands, her husband “gave them his arms.” This statement is directly contrary to what her husband actually did: the two major wars which consumed well over half of the Bush presidency, which have been estimated to have a long-term cost of between $4 and $6 trillion; the two Bush tax cuts, whih turned a long-term projected surplus inherited from the Clinton tax rate structure into a long-term budgetary deficit — one estimate is that 56 percent of the cuts went to the top five percent of tax filers — the huge increase in national security spending, which starved the domestic sector; and his attempt after his second term victory to privatize Social Security. So much for Lauri Bush’s contention that her husband gave his arms when people needed helping hands.
Besides the distortion of history implicit in presidential libraries, the citizens of this country and the observing world are likely to be subject to a period of almost totally undiluted tributes to Bush. We experienced this phenomenon when Ronald Reagan died. There was about a week of laudatory tributes to Reagan, with barely a mention of anything that went wrong in his presidency. When veteran newsman, Morley Safer, remarked in a panel discussion of journalists that there should be a discussion of things that went wrong in Reagan’s presidency, the other journalists chimed in that it was not the time to speak ill of a major political figure. When would be the time to fully evaluate the successes and failures of the Reagan presidency? Would it be at the 50th anniversary of his death? Or the 100th anniversary?
Expect for George Herbert Walker Bush, who gave a short, nonpolitical speech, to all of the former and present presidents who spoke, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars never happened, torture never occurred, the lame respond to Katrina never occurred, the Bush tax cuts were never legislated and the War on Terror was a non-event. Jimmy Carter focused on Bush’s AIDS work and President Obama also mentioned it. Neither president pointed out that the five-year, $15 billion program was significantly underfunded, as, for example, less than $2 billion was provided for the first year’s programed funding of $3.5 billion.
Besides Bush’s AIDS work, Barack Obama alluded to Bush picking up the bullhorn after 9/11; his education work and efforts at immigration reform. Much as the AIDS program, Bush’s only significant education reform, No Child Left Behind, was underfunded and provisions to provide extra funding for failing schools, and allowing students in failing schools to transfer to schools making satisfactory progress have been largely unrealized.
As for immigration reform, Bush took one legislative shot at it and when that failed, it was not a priority policy item for the remainder of his presidency.
In essence, there wasn’t much in the way of Bush accomplishments for the presidents to hang their hats on, so they had to embellish. In a way, Barack Obama, either consciously or not, acknowledged this, when he gave Bush the faintest of compliments by saying that George W. Bush loved his country and wanted the best for its citizens. In the end, the attending presidents did the country and the world a great disservice by pitching into the ashcan of history the many very destructive actions that Bush bequested to posterity.