Yesterday on the Today Show, George W. Bush, former president and amateur painter, said some extremely common-sense things. For example, that the media is good while power and racist immigration policy can be bad. “I don’t like the racism and I don’t like the name-calling and I don’t like the people feeling alienated,” he was quoted as saying in a People magazine video posted the same day.
Not unrelatedly, he is also on tour promoting a book, Portraits of Courage, which he would like you to buy. (The book features tender portraits of post-9/11 veterans, a population the Bush administration sent into battle without proper equipment and, once they returned home, falsified documents to obscure how poorly they were treated.)
But since the moment Donald Trump was elected president, the junior Bush’s public profile has softened to the point where reasonable people gaze wistfully back on the presidency of a man who started a protracted war to plunder oil and presided over the worst tanking of the economy since the Great Depression.
The haze of revisionist thinking remembers Bushisms like “misunderestimated” as adorably podunk and the last Republican to hold the highest U.S. office as a paragon of class. It's also quite useful for Bush, whose comeback tour is clearly being orchestrated around the image of a kinder, gentler GOP commander-in-chief.
Bush might look good in comparison to Trump, but we’re not ready to let those benchmarks move too far back yet. Here are some of the things Dubya should be remembered for—not his PR-approved statements in advance of hawking a coffee table book.
When a Category 5 hurricane hit the Louisiana coast, rather than address the disaster that would kill close to 2,000 people the president noodled around on the guitar with country singer Mark Wills—and then he went on vacation. Days later, rather than landing on the ground in New Orleans, Bush gazed at the destruction from the safety of Air Force One. The famously light federal response to Katrina, and Bush’s lethargic public acknowledgement of the disaster—as when he jovially told now-disgraced FEMA director Michael Brown he was doing a “heckuva job”—just so happened to affect people of color under the poverty line.
He really, really, hated the press.
At one time, the Bush administration was occasionally referred to as the “post-truth presidency” for its war against the press. Before taking office, Bush Jr. attempted to hide his gubernatorial records. Once he was president, his administration refused to release or put off crucial documents demanded by Democratic lawmakers, including records from abuses at Abu Ghraib, military contracts with Halliburton, and, crucially, memos regarding the existence (or complete fabrication) of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Bush, who told Lauer the press was necessary for democracy, also held fewer press conferences during his first term than any previous president in history and did not grant interviews to the New York Times during his first four years in office.
He absolutely loved Wall Street—and tanked the economy because of it.
Bush took office with an unusually strong economy; by the time he left the unemployment rate was 7.6%. The too-big-to-fail cowboy culture on Wall Street that resulted in the financial crash of 2008 was catalyzed by Bush’s deregulatory attitude towards corporations and financial institutions. His favoritism may have had something to do with the fact that in the run-up to his election, he and Dick Cheney raised then-unprecedented amounts of money from corporate donors and big business.
He bolstered the ultra-conservative religious right, which is dependably terrible for women, LGBT people, and intellectuals.
Bush cut funding for UN family planning programs, forbade abortions on military bases, implemented abstinence-only education, and favored fetal rights over the rights of the women who carried them. He backed a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage. He claimed evolution was a theory and advocated for the use of the Creationist “intelligent design” explanation in public schools.
Oh, and he completely fabricated a reason for us to go to war.
There were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we went there, anyway. Once there, a culture of military contracting awarded massive amounts of money to the people closest to the administration (see: Haliburton, Liz Cheney) and ignored the Geneva convention to torture prisoners of war.