The retention of 98 percent of the Bush tax cuts by the most liberal president to hold office reminds us that a mere four years after leaving office, George W. Bush has a legacy that is becoming more impressive with time. Kevin Hasset of the American Enterprise Institute puts it this way: “After everything settles, people of both parties will have to agree that this was a big win for Bush. Almost all of Bush’s favored tax policies have become a permanent part of the tax code. The top rate is higher, but marginal tax rates on ‘rich’ people with incomes below $400,000 are even lower than they would have been if Bush’s tax cuts had never passed.” He emphasizes: “It is especially important that dividends will probably never again be taxed as ordinary income. Even Republicans in the House were against Bush’s dividend tax proposal to begin with. Now, even Democrats agree that dividends should be taxed less.” So much for Warren Buffett’s secretary.
Dana Perino, who served as Bush’s press secretary e-mailed me this morning: “If you’re picking through the fiscal cliff deal, which Bill Kristol called ‘a dog’s breakfast,’ you won’t find many tasty morsels. However, Republicans can find some of it palatable, such as the fact they won the argument that tax cuts are crucial to economic growth.” She continued, “Yes, the Bush tax cuts, which were demonized by Democrats for years as being only for the rich, were deemed critical to the country’s middle class by the very Democrats who complained the loudest about — and voted against — them. When confronted with their hypocrisy, many Democrats just shrug it off as if listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher. But deep down they know they lost the argument, and it will be impossible for them to ever go back on their new position.”
Bush seems to be a more accomplished Republican figure in the Obama era. He was a compassionate conservative who got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. While cutting taxes and fighting two wars, he was a model of fiscal sobriety compared to his successor. Despite President Obama’s rush for the exits, Iraq remains intact in a post-Saddam Hussein era. Bush’s support for advances in drone warfare have been enthusiastically embraced by Obama. Bush’s intelligence policies eventually led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Unlike Obama, Bush recognized the nature of our enemy and rallied a nation in a time of crisis. His AIDS-fighting project has saved millions of lives in Africa. His free-trade agreements with South Korea and Panama have been ratified. His deeply held convictions on human rights stand in sharp contrast to Obama’s dismal record.
Certainly, in the second term Bush lost focus on North Korea, misjudged the Palestinians, blundered on his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court (before finding his way to nominate Sam Alito) and tragically failed to pardon Scooter Libby. But the pluses vastly outweigh the downsides and the bogus charge that his tax cuts led to the 2008 recession have been rejected even by reasonable liberals. He failed to achieve immigration reform, but he had the nerve to try. In contrast to his successor, George W. Bush is a veritable giant among presidents.
It goes to show how quickly perspective can shift. And for his brother, Jeb, it means the Bush name should be no barrier to a presidential run.