Sunday, February 01, 2009

Three Good Things George W. Bush Did

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.

12 comments:

Michael Kruse said...

I agree with all of the above.

How about the prescription drug program? Not a favorite of mine but I would think many Democrats would think this was a positive.

Also, no more attacks by terrorists on American soil.

Bush will not end up in the bottom ten. I expect he will come to be seen in the middle of the pack. Remember a brash Truman led us into a very unpopular war and left office with ratings as low as Bush's and is now considered one of our better presidents.

Mac said...

Whose civil liberties did he suspend? I must have missed that. I'm not sure that any of our citizens lost any of their civil liberties, but i am open to correction.

If you are referring to terrorists, then remember that the Constitution does not confer any rights on people outside our borders or who seek to do us ill. (For example, if one breaks the valid criminal law in, let us say, Iran, see how far one gets in asserting First, Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Amendments.)

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, I am disappointed at your obvious omission of his support of pro-life legislation. The ban on the use of federal money to fund abortions overseas, the passing of the ban of partial-birth abortion and the appointment of Supreme Court Justices who are not interested in their own personal interpretation of the Constitution were acts that he can certainly take pride in. I realize that this may go against your personal belief and that truly amazes me as you so often refer to your Christian faith.

nick.carraway said...

Mac, read most of the provisions in the Liberty Act...there's our civil liberties. Then watch, "Taxi to the Dark Side", there goes the civil liberties of everybody else. I'm pretty sure you will stand corrected upon further review.

Didn't the pharmeceutical industry benefit from Bush's AIDS treatment in Africa? He did little to prevent the spread through education and birth control, but much in the way of pharmeceutical treatments...unless I'm way off base and I very well could be.

Katie said...

One of the things I was most impressed by was his signing of the bill to increase fuel efficiency standards in vehicles. I was very surprised that the media never made a big deal out of it. The signing of that bill was a huge step forward in taking the car industry to task, weaning us of our dependence on foreign oil, and saving the environment. An impressive bill for a president who's been painted as anti-environment.

Gruntled said...

Katie, I agree with you that the energy bill was a good thing. I was reading it as more a bipartisan initiative, rather than some thing Pres. Bush pushed. On the other hand, he did make that peculiar reference to "switch grass" in the State of the Union address, so perhaps that comes from the heart.

Gruntled said...

Mac, when the president says any American can be declared an enemy combatant and deprived on all civil liberties, including habeas corpus, that is as dire an attack on the principle of liberties as is possible.

Mac said...

Nick: “Liberty Act?” Or did you mean PL 107-56 (“Patriot” Act)?

Last time I checked, an act becomes a law only when it is passed by both houses of the Congress and is then signed by the president. Yopu can't lay that one off on President Bush, without also blaming the legislators from both parties who agreed.

Nonetheless, I took your advice and read the PATRIOT Act, and buddy, you have convinced me.

The bi-partisan PATRIOT Act did infringe on the following “civil rights.”

1. It removed the civil right of foreigners to plan attacks on this Nation and its citizens and US citizens and lawful residents to commit treason free from surveillance and discovery. Yup, that’s a bad thing!

2. In furtherance of 1, it repealed the statutory requirement that the government prove a surveillance target under FISA is a non-U.S. citizen and agent of a foreign power, though it did require that any investigations must not be undertaken on citizens who are carrying out activities protected by the First Amendment. Once again, there is that removal of the civil right of citizens to aid our enemies. [Note: I do believe that the citizens of New Hampshire have a gripe because their Constitution, written and adopted in 1784, before the current US Constitution, does specifically preserve in the people the right of armed revolt against the government. So the Act may infringe on that civil right, but only for New Hampshiremen.]

3. It allowed any US District Court to issue surveillance orders and search warrants for terrorism investigations. Where is the loss of a civil right? The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure has always been recognized as a limited right. The arbiter of whether a search or seizure is unreasonable has always been the judge who decides whether or not probable cause exists to issue a warrant. Ooops, no civil right infringed; that protection us still there.

4. It infringed on the civil right of people to plan attacks on us, free from discovery. Search warrants have always been available to acquire written, taped, electronically stored, or photographed evidence. Cell phone conversations are still properly intercepted because there is no expectation of privacy if the conversation is broadcast over the airwaves. But the Act infringed on the civil right to store voicemail, free from a warranted search warrant. Oh, sure,there is that warrant requirement, a protection against unreasonable searches. I suppose you have no objection if a warranted wiretap hears the actual conversation that plans, e.g., another Oklahoma City attack, but if Tim McVey is away from the phone and Terry Nichols leaves him a voice-mail, that’s off limits?

5. It infringes the “civil right” to make use of modern technology for illegal purposes. It adopts the “living Constitution” standard so beloved of many folks who despair when the Supreme Court looks to original intent. In this case, the Act allows warranted so-called “roving wiretaps” that do not need to specify all common carriers and third parties in a surveillance court order.

See, these pesky terrorists make use of 21st Century technology by rapidly changing locations and communication devices such as cell phones to plan their dastardly deeds. I take it you have no objection if each wiretap is specifically authorized by a Court. You just want the bad guys to be able to change phones and locations before we can detect them and prevent their nefarious schemes.

We had a comparable problem when I was in Vietnam. We might spot a few enemy trucks parked on a road. Because each bombing mission had to be pre-approved by the President, the location of the trucks worked their way up the chain to McNamara and LBJ. A few days or weeks later, we got permission to bomb the specific location reported. Of course, the trucks were long gone and the bombs fell on an empty stretch of road, doing no one any good, but by golly, we got specific pre-approval.

6. It infringes on the civil rights of terrorists to launder money to hurt us. It expands existing money-laundering statutes to track funds transfers in support of terrorism, especially tools to combat the use by terrorists and their supporters of shell banks (which, being foreign banks with no connection to the United States, never had any civil liberties to begin with). You do have a problem here: common criminals have no such right to launder funds, so there may be an equal protection issue. Let’s just do away with all money-laundering prohibitions.

7. It infringes on the “civil right” of anyone who wants to come to the US to illegally enter the country. In particular, it allowed our border patrol agencies access to the information they need to keep out people who are forbidden, by law, to enter the United States, such as convicted felons, deportees who were previously here illegally out, and suspected terrorists.

8. It infringes the rights of those who plan to use dangerous devices (explosives, firearms, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons) or who have engaged in or plan to engage in terrorist activity (committing, inciting to commit or planning and preparing to undertake an act of terrorism; gathering of intelligence information on potential terrorist targets, the solicitation of funds for a terrorist organisation or the solicitation of others to undertake acts of terrorism, providing knowing assistance to a person who is planning to perform such activities, including giving material support, such as safe houses, transportation, communications, funds, transfer of funds or other material financial benefit, false documentation or identification, weapons, explosives, or training to perform a terrorist act).

9. Finally, by increasing criminal law definitions and penalties, it infringed on the civil rights of folks to undertake acts of mass destruction, assassination, attack mass transportation systems, and to harbor or conceal terrorists.
As far as “Taxi to the Dark Side” is concerned, just remember who produced it—those same wonderful folks who have never met an American soldier they like, who have never met an enemy of the United States that they do not like, and have never had to put their lives on the line to protect the very freedoms that they so assiduously claim.

And spare me the over-arching definition of “torture” that is so popular today. Being forced to wear a dog collar serves no useful or proper purpose, but it is not torture. I’m glad “water-boarding” is out. But if there is ever solid evidence that another attack on the US is imminent and that someone in our custody knows the time, date and location of the attack, I’m betting that the President will issue a “finding” that it is not torture in that particular case. At least, I hope so.

Have crimes been committed by American troops? Yep, and they were tried convicted and sentenced. And that is the difference—we do take the rule of law seriously.

So, yeah, you’ve convinced me. Our country and its average citizens are really in danger of losing their rights, and they will be so much safer if we just get rid of the PATRIOT Act and ask the truly evil people in the world who hate us to just play nice.
You got me. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Mac said...

Gruntled:
The guy took up arms against his country. That is the definition of an “enemy combatant.” When the Courts find that he does have the right to the Great Writ, he’ll be OK. I recall my Con Law instructor’s comment in response to the question of why, in 1942-43, the Supreme Court did not over-rule the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese lawful residents. “Whoa! Never forget, the Supreme Court likes to win wars, too. After the existence of the nation is assured they can get back to the niceties of constitutional law.” And the instructor was a Paul Douglas liberal Democrat.

George said...

I knew Nick couldn't help but bash bush. Doesn't Obama's tax cheaters bother you? I didn't think so. The next 4 years is going to be so fun!

D- said...

This is getting to be a long thread, so when I thought I had to respond to a couple points I ended up having my own long post. Please forgive.

First the good: (Those already mentioned I agree wholeheartedly with were PEPFAR and 9/11/01-9/15/01). Ocean conservation, Bush is rightfully given credit here (perhaps not even enough)for his great work in setting aside marine reserves. This should be appreciated by people on all sides (including fishermen...or at least fishermen who have brains.) He set aside more conservation acreage than the land national parks and national wildlife refuges combined. Too bad he was so awful with anything else involving the environment (Clean Air Act, MTR, Clean Coal, Superfund sites, etc., etc., etc.)

Gruntled, all evidence I've ever seen has shown that secular anti-addiction services are equally effective as faith-based ones. What studies have you seen to indicate differently?

The Energy Bill was no where near sufficient in terms of conservation, and was full of energy (i.e. oil) company earmarks and subsidies. Never credit him for fuel efficiency either please, he killed California's much more progressive standards. Where were the GOP states' rights police then?

Did somebody say Bush appointed constitutionalist justices?...Someone hasn't been reading their Constitution (hint, Alito, hint).

As for the PATRIOT Act, FBI illegally abused the acts provisions to gain information against US citizens.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/mar/09/usa
Nobody who has read or at least understands the Pat act thinks that it is all bad. However, to believe that nothing in the bill oversteps the bounds of what it means to be American and what our Bill of Rights stands for is joking themselves.

nick.carraway said...

I just came back to this thread and immediately went "duh" after reading my misspoken terminology...I knew I would be jumped on about that.

You couldn't quote all of the Patriot Act because it is a 400+ page document, but way to take it out of context. What I'm concerned with is, as D said, it was abused within our borders in the form of illegal wire taps, secret judges signing secret warrants that could not be overseen, etc...

If you really think that the only torture that was used besides waterboarding and dog collars, I again recommened you watch "Taxi to the Dark Side". You'll be disgusted, as you should be, and enlightened...hopefully.