Bush’s Opportunities

Spencer Ackerman tries to save us some time:

To save you valuable Christmas-time time on this Los Angeles Times attempt at putting George W. Bush in perspective, the question addressed by the story is whether Bush is the primary factor behind America’s recent global decline, or merely a contributing factor among several accellerants. Yes, that’s the best case scenario. Merry Christmas. Just 25 more days to go.

The problem with the article, in my view, is that it doesn’t take opportunity costs all that serious. Obviously, there are important factors independent from Bush’s policies that create challenges for the United States. But by the same token, Bush’s policies weren’t just pulled out of nowhere, the idea was that his policies were going to address challenges facing the nation. He put on the table really enormous, sweeping new policy concepts.

As it happens, they were bad concepts. But a good president wouldn’t just have avoided Bush’s errors and sat passively in the face of challenges. He would have launched bold, sweeping new policies that were also good policies. Instead of invading Iraq, Bush could have led a charge to revitalize the multilateral disarmanent process. Instead of spending $100 billion a year in Iraq for the past five and a half years we could have been spending that money on clean energy and energy efficiency. Or suppose that instead of a large, deficit-financed distributionally regressive income tax cut we’d had an equally sized distributionally progressive income tax cut financed by a new tax on carbon emissions? Instead of blowing political capital on a basically fraudulent plan to address the not-very-serious long-term budgetary issues with Social Security, there could have been an effort to spend political capital on a plan to address the very serious long-term budgetary need for health care reform.


One could go on. The point, however, is that in the past the United States hasn’t prospered purely through good. We’ve faced challenging situations and some unfavorable circumstances. Mostly, the quality of the leadership has been adequate to the scale of those challenges. But for the past eight years, not so much.