Currently, longtime Bush loyalists Karen Hughes and Karl Rove are heading up the Bush Legacy Project, doing their best to put a good face on a presidency that is being defined by catastrophes that occurred on his negligent watch. Bush has said in the past he doesn't really care what people think of how he did, because the final view of a president happens so far in the future that he and all his critics will be dead by then. That is a bad lie from a bad liar. It takes more cunning than Bush has to be a good liar. If lying only took practice to be skilled at it, Bush would be Paganini, but it takes some innate talent as well, and he was born with very little of it.
No one wants to live as a pariah for decades, and that is the life that George W. Bush now faces.
So much of the Bush legacy is him getting what he wanted, from Congresses run sometimes by the Republicans and sometimes by the Democrats, and what he wanted not working out very well. He started two wars we could not lose militarily. The Taliban scattered when our soldiers hit the ground in Afghanistan. The Iraqi army put up a fight for six weeks tops before it was no more. And yet, our military is still stuck in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the only hope that we will be able to leave, with or without meeting political objectives, is that a president has been elected who repudiates Bush on nearly every policy.
So much of Bush's legacy will be his disastrous successes, from the Patriot Act to No Child Left Behind to both wars to secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping and torture. Another large part of his legacy will be his disastrous inattentiveness, including the response to Katrina, his allowing Israel to so inflame Palestinian resentment that they elected Hamas and his Pollyanna-like faith that the economy was going so well, there was no need to re-regulate a financial system that continues to crumble before our eyes.
But let me add something people are likely to forget, his great defeat. After narrowly winning re-election in 2004, doing so with approval ratings well under 50%, the first sitting president to achieve that feat, Bush decided he had "political capital, and I'm going to spend it."
His great hope was Social Security reform. To be specific, he wanted to privatize Social Security.
He tried and tried. He gave speeches for months. A focus group late in the game found out that people didn't like the term "private accounts", but preferred "personal accounts", and an Orwellian attempt to use the new phrase came out of the Republican fog machine.
The thing is, for all the work and all the debate on TV and all the focus groups, this was the turd that refused to be polished.
You know how I love the numbers. Here is a number I recall very well. Back when his popularity was over 40%, the popularity of this idea was 25%. I figured that number was probably a good approximation of his core support. Now that his personal popularity is in the twenties with little chance of improving, let me celebrate slightly early with six weeks left in his horrible eight year rule and say I got that number right.
Thomas Merton, that oddest of odd ducks, a famous 20th Century monk, was asked the obvious question asked of the faithful in this horrible modern age. Where is God's mercy? How was it shown during the slaughter of the Holocaust? Merton's reply was that the Holocaust ended. Likewise, the Bush administration now ends, and the legacy polishers cannot change the public's perception for the foreseeable future. But let us recall another of God's mercies in our nation's terrible time, that one of Bush's worst ideas never saw the light of day.