Rex Nutting of MarketWatch
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - The remarkable thing about President George W. Bush wasn't that he was a horrible chief executive; it's that he was horrible in so many ways.
Contrary to the president's own assessment of his tenure earlier this week, it was an astonishing eight years - and not in a good way. The country suffered two recessions, and two shooting wars. The government botched its response to a brazen attack by terrorists on two cities, and then four years later utterly failed to react when another city was consumed by a natural disaster.
The president took on tyranny by embracing torture. He fought a war for freedom by trampling human rights. He enriched the already rich, excused their excesses, and then bailed them out of trouble and handed us the bill.
He politicized everything, promoted incompetents, and -- whenever things got tight -- appealed to our basest instincts of fear, greed, ignorance and hate.
Bush had all the luck of Jimmy Carter, the attention to detail of Ronald Reagan, the adaptability of Lyndon Johnson, the abiding respect for the Constitution of Richard Nixon, the humility of Teddy Roosevelt, the rhetorical skills of Calvin Coolidge, the fiscal restraint of Franklin Roosevelt, the cronyism of Warren Harding, and the overreaching idealism of Woodrow Wilson.
And his election had all the legitimacy of Rutherford Hayes'.
None of the disasters of the past eight years can be entirely blamed on Bush, of course. No president is all powerful, and Bush was handed some raw deals, especially in that first year with the recession and then the nightmare of 9/11. But other presidents - Lincoln, Roosevelt, and the incoming Obama come to mind -- have had to deal with worse. The test of greatness is what you do when faced with the impossible.
Here's my list of the seven worst things Bush did during his time in the White House.
7. Bush politicized parts of the government that should be nonpartisan.
From NASA to the Justice Department, professionals were forced out or silenced if they departed from the true Republican way. What was good for the Republican Party trumped what was good policy for the nation. Every administration is political to some extent, but the Bush administration took it too far. When Paul O'Neill was forced out at Treasury, it was clear that every major decision would be determined by Karl Rove's calculus.
6. Bush squandered the budget surplus.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Bush had a near-religious faith in the ability of tax cuts to deliver prosperity. Tax cuts were the panacea that would cure all ills. Economy too strong? Cut taxes. Economy too weak? Cut taxes. Stock market falling? Cut dividend taxes. Investment weak? Cut capital gains taxes. But tax cuts didn't make the economy stronger; they merely blew a big hole in the budget. Now, when we could really use that surplus to pay for the bailouts and the stimulus, it's gone.
5. Bush comforted the comfortable and afflicted the afflicted.
The Bush years were the ultimate test of trickle-down economics, the theory that says the government should favor the rich because the benefits will flow down to the rest of us. The results of that experiment are clear: We've had the weakest job growth since the 1930s. We've had the biggest increase in debt ever. We've had the highest share of national income going to profits since the 1920s. Income inequality has soared while our public and private investment has slowed to a trickle. Instead of building a fundamentally sound economy, Bush nurtured a Ponzi economy based on get-rich-quick schemes.
4. Bush rewarded incompetence.
Because politics and personal loyalty were all that counted, Bush appointed incompetent people to vital jobs. He hired interns to run Iraq. He hired a horse expert to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He wanted to hire Harriett Miers to be a Supreme Court justice. Top jobs were reserved for sycophants, toadies and failures.
3. Bush lied us into war.
Every argument for war against Iraq was a delusion, and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost as a result.Saddam Hussein was not responsible for 9/11 in any way. He was not a danger to the United States. The Bush administration ignored or dismissed mountains of evidence that showed that Saddam was not building an arsenal of chemical or nuclear weapons. Bush rushed to war without giving diplomacy or weapons inspectors a chance. Later, administration officials blew the cover of a CIA employee whose husband told the truth, and then lied about their involvement.
2. Bush has exposed himself to war crime charges.
By his own admission, Bush authorized interrogation practices that are illegal under U.S. and international law. His administration at best looked the other way and at worst ordered prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to be tortured. Not only is torture an immoral and heinous crime against humanity, it is ineffective in the fight against terrorism. Nothing has given Osama bin Laden more support than Bush's immorality. And our nation's reputation has been tarnished, possibly forever.
1. Bush weakened our democracy.
Bush has embraced a theory of dictatorship. Bush, under Vice President Dick Cheney's guidance, encouraged an imperial presidency answerable to no one. Working with a complacent Congress, Bush gutted the constitutional checks and balances that are supposed to keep any part of the government from growing too powerful or too corrupt. In the name of an endless war against an amorphous enemy, he canceled our most fundamental rights of habeas corpus and the right to be free from unreasonable government spying.
One final note: Bush had the opportunity to be a great president. After 9/11, the nation was as united as it had been since Pearl Harbor, and Bush rode a wave of popularity that he could have used to turn around the nation's politics, security and economy.
Instead of uniting us as he promised, he divided us instead.
Rex Nutting is Washington bureau chief of MarketWatch.
Seven most horrible things about Bush's presidency - MarketWatch