E. J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks argue that Bush squandered an opportunity to remake American politics. Brooks claims that “Bush didn’t build the governing majority that was there for the taking.” Dionne says that Bush opted for partisanship rather than building on our post-9/11 national unity.
I don’t really buy any of this. Brooks’s one example of something Bush could have done is to try a new, “flexible, market-based system that would have cleaned the environment better than the current system.” Now maybe Bush should have done more on this front. But the idea that this step would have contributed in a significant way to a “governing majority” is unserious.
As for Dionne: The sense of national unity we all felt right after the attacks was bound to go away, and blaming Bush for its dissipation is foolish. Americans had different views of how to respond to the attacks, rooted in different philosophies and instincts. Bush was going to alienate either his base or the Democrats. Finally, the idea that Bush was markedly more partisan than the Democrats in 2002 is itself a product of Democratic partisanship. The Democrats’ maneuvering that year over the Iraq war–demanding a vote, then complaining about having to vote before the election, then mostly voting for a war they didn’t really support–didn’t exactly put the national ahead of the partisan interest.