Not only are Bush administration officials rushing out to rewrite President Bush’s legacy as a strong, capable leader, his conservative allies are beginning to jump to his defense as well. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — one of Bush’s favorite think tanks — has a column today for Bloomberg News in which he writes that the “argument for his [Bush's] eventual vindication is stronger than many might expect.” Hassett specifically points to Bush’s record on terrorism:
On the home front, to virtually everyone’s surprise, we’ve avoided a terrorist attack since Sept. 11. [...]
So it is hard to argue that Bush’s policies were a failure. The unpopular war may have trashed his party, but it didn’t have the same effect on the country.
Hassett acknowledges that Bush’s “accomplishments were few” on the economic front, but he says that this fact absolves Bush of any responsibility in the economic crisis:
The insignificance of Bush’s economic policy, though, might work to his advantage. We are in the midst of the worst recession of our generation, yet it is hard to attribute this crisis to anything that Bush actively did. If his large deficits produced skyrocketing interest rates that crushed the economy, then the argument that Bush caused the mess we’re in might hold water. If he was the one who deregulated the financial sector, then we could justifiably blame him for our predicament.
Similarly, Bush’s Counselor Ed Gillespie wrote a piece for RealClearPolitics yesterday titled, “Myths & Facts About the Real Bush Record.” Gillespie also tried to absolve Bush of any blame for the economic crisis, saying that “the President and his Administration have responded to aggressively” to “the current economic challenges.” But Bush’s inaction on the economy is precisely what helped throw the country into recession. Bush “ignored remarkably prescient warnings” about the collapse of the financial system and eliminated key financial checks and regulations.
As the New York Times reported recently, as early as 2006, Bush and his top advisers “dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming. And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn.”
In the last line of Gillespie’s piece, he writes, “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.” Matt Yglesias takes issue with Gillespie’s comment:
This is like saying that except for the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover had a good economic record. … Nine or so months later by far the largest terrorist attack on American soil was perpetrated. That’s a fantastically enormous failing. If you only look at Bush’s final seven years, you’ll see that he was as good as every other president at preventing terrorist attacks. And if you include his entire presidency, you’ll see that he was by far the worst.
Despite Hassett and Gillespie’s revisionist efforts, Americans may unfortunately find that Bush’s legacy is even worse than they think.