Watching the adulation heaped on Barack Obama last night, I was reminded of the shameful way the GOP — and the conservative movement more broadly — has treated George W. Bush. The last Republican to win a national election has become an object of scorn and mockery in many quarters of the Republican world.
It’s almost comical to watch many of the same people who derided Bush as a “big-government Republican” wrap both their arms around a bigger-government populist. It’s sad to see critics who attacked Bush’s anti-terror strategy fail to recognize that it did, indeed, keep us safe after 9/11. His strategy — taking the fight straight to the enemy — rocked terrorists on their heels so much that only three Americans lost their lives to domestic terror attacks during the rest of Bush’s two terms. If you’d told virtually anyone in the days after 9/11 that the next seven-plus years would be almost entirely peaceful here at home, they would have laughed at your optimism. We felt that the next blow would land at literally any moment.
By contrast, the preferred strategy of so many of Bush’s critics — withdrawing American boots from the Middle East while playing terrorist whack-a-mole from the air — has enabled the creation of entire terrorist armies and helped destabilize not just the Middle East but also our European allies. In both Europe and America, we face new terror attacks with almost clock-like regularity.
Bush faced two enormous crises during his two terms — both the result of long-simmering bipartisan failures and missteps (so of course he’s hardly blameless) — and he responded decisively. By the time he left office, al Qaeda was a shell of its former self, and the Iraq war was largely won. By the time he left office, he’d taken all the necessary measures to prevent true financial catastrophe.
And, by the way, he not only had a better record at judicial nominations than either his father or President Reagan, he handled an enormous amount of incoming hate and vitriol with class and dignity. Is he not worth respecting? Is he not worth honoring? I sincerely hope that the GOP of 2020 is a more decent organization than it is today, and it gives Bush the kind of moment the Democrats gave Obama. He deserves our applause.