I was not a fan of George W. Bush. I worked actively for his opponent in 2000 and 2004. If I had been asked by a pollster "do you approve of the job Pres. Bush is doing as president," I would have said No during 415 out of the 416 weeks of his presidency. However, I believe in giving credit where it is due. So now that the Bush 43 administration is entirely over, let me name three things I think he did right. I do so, in part, to encourage readers to offer their alternative estimates.
1. Faith-based initiatives. John DiIulio, the first director of Pres. Bush' Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, says rightly that George Bush deserves credit for making government-religious organization partnerships a viable option. Religious organizations have always served the public. Government in America has always had partnerships with church-sponsored agencies. Since the Second World War, though, government has been very circumspect about tax money being used for a clearly religious purpose. If a church taught people to read, for example, they could get government money; if they taught people to read the Bible and believe it, they could not.
Some problems, though, respond best to life-changing faith. Getting addicts to change their lives is very hard, and nothing works all the time. Still, approaches that get people to rely on a "higher power" have the best track record. Many people in social services had come to recognize this fact in the 1980s and '90s, even secular activists. If the government was serious about changing the lives of the most troubled and dangerous people, they needed to let God in, and pay the expenses. George W. Bush was the man who turned this once-taboo idea into a real government program. Indeed, Pres. Obama embraced the idea early and enthusiastically, though he plans to expand it beyond Pres. Bush's initiative. Faith-based programs are now part of the bipartisan base of government.
2. Fighting AIDS in Africa. This is a faith-based initiative, and much more. Frankly, I have been surprised that Pres. Bush made this commitment early, stuck to it, and put some real money inton it. It doesn't fit with the rest of the foreign policy of his administration. It produces no immediate benefit for the interests of the U.S. government or major U.S. businesses. I think this one comes right from Pres. Bush's heart.
3. The week of September 11, 2001. The high point of the Bush presidency. He rallied the country. He said clearly that Islam was not the enemy, and opposed all efforts to demonize Muslims here or abroad. An imam was included in the national prayer service for the first time. He went to Ground Zero and praised the emergency responders. The world stood with the U.S. as never before.
By the second week, though, he had ceded control of the U.S. response to others. They took the opportunity to make a war on the wrong enemy, suspend civil liberties, alienate almost all the nations of the world, involve us in torture, run up the debt, and in general destroy the achievements of the previous two administrations. Which is why, when all is said and done, W. will rank among the bottom ten presidents.
But there were at least three notable achievements of the George W. Bush administration, for which I wish to give him credit.