The answer is neither, of course. But the president has surely taken a beating from both sides of political center over his two terms in the White House. Ed Gillespie explodes some of the myths from both left and right about the Bush record in an op-ed for RealClearPolitics.com.
Democrats have attacked the president for his tax cuts, and the meme “Tax Cuts for the Rich” became one of Barack Obama’s most often repeated talking points during the campaign. In reality, says Gillespie:
There are not 116 million “wealthy Americans,” but that’s how many taxpayers benefited from the President’s tax relief. The across-the-board tax cuts provided tax relief to every American who pays income taxes, created a new bottom 10 percent bracket rate, doubled the child tax credit to $1,000, and actually increased the share of the Federal income tax burden paid by the top 10 percent of individual earners from 67 percent in 2000 to 70 percent in 2005. Furthermore, this Administration removed 13 million low-income earners from the income tax rolls completely.
Environmentalists and other liberals charged that George W. Bush payed no attention to issues that are of concern to them. Gillespie counters:
From 2001 to 2007, air pollution decreased by 12 percent, and fine particulate matter pollution is down 17 percent since 2001. Ethanol production quadrupled from 1.6 billion gallons in 2000 to 6.5 billion gallons in 2007, wind energy production has increased by more than 400 percent, and solar energy capacity has doubled. In 2007, solar installations increased more than 32 percent and the U.S. produced 96 percent more biodiesel (490 million gallons) than in 2006. The Administration also provided nearly $18 billion to research, develop, and promote alternative and more efficient energy technologies such as biofuels, solar, wind, clean coal, nuclear, and hydrogen.
Liberals, especially some members of Congress who refused to admit that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were out of control and were receiving large sums of money from the two government-sponsored entities, have attempted to lay the blame for the financial meltdown and our current economic problems at Bush’s feet for his deregulatory policies. Gillespie points out that the Bush tax cuts gave the country an unprecedented 52-month run of uninterrupted job growth, with 8.3 million jobs created. In addition:
This reflected six consecutive years of economic growth from the Fourth Quarter of 2001 until the Fourth Quarter of 2007. From 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a remarkable gain of nearly 2.1 trillion dollars. This growth was driven in part by increased labor productivity gains that have averaged 2.5 percent annually since 2001, a rate that exceeds the averages of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. In the same period, real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent, and there was a 4.7 percent increase in the number of new businesses formed.
Gillespie also has something for the “Bush is a socialist” crowd:
Teenage drug use has declined 25 percent; in 2007, the violent crime rate was 43 percent lower than the rate in 1998; between 2005 and 2007, the chronically homeless population decreased approximately 30 percent; funding for veterans’ medical care has increased more than 115 percent; and as of 2005, the most recent abortion rate is at its lowest since 1974.
And one last fact: Our homeland has not suffered another terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. That, too, is part of the real Bush record.
Michael Novak lists some more of the president’s conservative accomplishments:
No president has ever been so strongly conservative on the pro-life front as President Bush. He has consistently labored to protect the human rights of the unborn, and has acted similarly when it comes to other important pro-life matters.
Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion ban and the ban on funding abortions through UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). He also restored and expanded the Mexico City agreement. He capped, by executive order, federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research and vetoed legislation that would have violated this boundary. (He did not prohibit private embryonic stem-cell research, but, rather, he acted according to the Jeffersonian principle that it is odious to tax people for actions that they morally abhor.) He dedicated unprecedented funds to abstinence education through the Department of Health and Human Services.
And on family legislation?
Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as a contract between one man and one woman. He repeatedly speaks of the family as the “unseen pillar of civilization.” He was the first president to sign a school-choice bill to give parents greater freedom in deciding where their children will be educated.
He has committed his administration, through the Departments of Justice and State, to halting sex trafficking and modern forms of slavery throughout the world, and he has appointed an ambassador to oversee such reforms. He has dedicated funding to prepare prisoners for productive lives after they leave prison.
And on big domestic issues?
He signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which will curb Medicare/Medicaid spending by $11 billion over the next five years. He braved the “third rail” of American politics in his attempt to reform Social Security. He implemented deregulation across all government agencies. He ordered every department of government to assess points of cooperation with faith-based initiatives….
And with regards to the courts, in just six years President Bush has nominated and seen confirmed 30 percent of all sitting federal judges, as well as two very intelligent and solid conservative jurists on the Supreme Court, Justices Roberts and Alito.
I won’t go as far as Novak does in maintaining that George W. Bush “defined a new kind of conservatism.” His so-called compassionate conservatism isn’t conservatism in my view, and no president who allows the sort of unrestrained federal spending that GWB did without reaching for the veto pen deserves to be called a conservative.
In my opinion, President George W. Bush is a centrist who ventured into liberal seas as much as he steered into conservative waters. Some of his policies were very conservative, and some were very liberal. After the wash, GWB remains a centrist. He is also a good human being and a true gentleman. He wasn’t the conservative that conservatives hoped for, nor was he the ogre that liberals say he is. Aside from his unshakable determination to keep the nation safe from jihadist attacks, conservatives can be proud (not to mention thankful) that they had Bush to kick around instead of a President Gore or a President Kerry.