Cataloguing the Bush Years
The opening of President George W. Bush’s library is a chance to look at the facts of his legacy.


Ed Gillespie

Last week’s tragic terrorist attack on the Boston marathon was a grim reminder that, while our homeland is safer today than it was before the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans cannot take that safety for granted.

The fact that we have not suffered such an attack in nearly eleven and a half years reflects the skill of our counterintelligence agencies, the FBI, and the brave men and women who are on the front lines of keeping their fellow Americans safe.

But it reflects, too, the policies put in place by the administration of President George W. Bush, whose presidential library opens this week in Dallas, Texas. These policies include establishing the director of National Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security, and expanding the FBI’s mission from just investigating terrorist attacks to preventing them.

To President Barack Obama’s credit, he abandoned much of his campaign rhetoric on terror issues — he criticized his predecessor over Guantanamo Bay and electronic surveillance, but largely maintained those policies once in office.

Of course, Mr. Obama has more faithfully adhered to his campaign criticisms of his precedessor on most other fronts, to the detriment of our economy and American workers. Over Mr. Bush’s tenure, our national debt averaged 38 percent of GDP, a result of holding average annual deficits to 2 percent of GDP, and federal spending remained below 20 percent of GDP in six of his eight years in office. (Only one other president in the past 40 years was able to reach such a low level, and for fewer years).

In stark contrast, federal debt as a percentage of GDP has doubled to 76 percent under President Obama, a result of federal spending averaging nearly 24 percent of our economy and annual deficits averaging more than 8 percent of GDP during his time in office.

Mr. Obama’s spending and accompanying increase in our debt has been part of a lackluster recovery that has stifled job creation, where he also pales in comparison to Mr. Bush, who presided over an average unemployment rate of 5.3 percent (the second strongest of the past seven presidencies) and saw jobs grow steadily for four years from 2003 through 2007. In fact, the highest unemployment rate of any one year in Mr. Bush’s two terms (6.3 percent) is more than a full point below the lowest annual rate of Mr. Obama’s.

Everyone concedes that Mr. Obama came into office facing the challenge of a financial crisis, but most seem to forget that Mr. Bush faced a recession upon entering office in 2001, and significant economic shocks during his presidency (including 9/11, oil-price spikes, and corporate-governance scandals) and a financial crisis at the end, yet still presided over consistent economic growth.

It’s also worth noting that, beginning in 2002, the Bush administration sought authority from Congress to more stringently regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s finances, which were at the core of the financial meltdown in 2008. Unfortunately, his reform efforts were stymied by members of Congress (to be fair, including some in his own party), including a junior senator from Illinois who benefited substantially from Fannie Mae contributions in 2004.