Si, Yo hablo Espanol
(signage in many retail establishments in Los Angeles)
Presidents are ever-mindful of their legacy, as they well should be. Hopefully, it’s one of the things that keeps them responsive to the electorate – the citizens who put them in office and for whom they work, at least putatively – and this is especially important in the case of a Lame Duck President who won’t again face the public at the polls.
Think of Reagan and you remember a resurgence of conservative values and a sunny optimism pervading the land. Carter and his “malaise”; Clinton and “bimbo eruptions” among many other scandals, along with impeachment for perjury; Eisenhower linked with the “Father Knows Best” lifestyle of the 50s; Kennedy’s “New Frontiers” and the Bay of Pigs; Johnson’s presiding over America’s first military defeat and the awful specter of the creation of a welfare-dependant underclass; Bush Pere’s failure to “finish the job” during Desert Storm; the “bully pulpit” of Teddy Roosevelt; the buck stopping at Truman’s desk.
How can we anticipate history treating the current President George Bush? I think it would be constructive to take a look.
In 2000 nominee Bush labeled himself a “compassionate conservative” with exciting ideas about how to save Social Security from collapse, cutting taxes to stimulate the economy while also increasing government revenues, lowering capital gains penalties and rolling back the “death tax”, freeing the marketplace from governmental interference, limiting liability lawsuits, strong support for the Second Amendment, and putting people more in control of their own financial future, all sound conservative values.
During his administration, he’s enjoyed some successes – on issues such as taxes, guns, and tort reform – and some failures, primarily on Social Security reform. He also gave us some very expensive entitlements programs, such as Drugs for Seniors and No Child Left Behind, and signed McCain-Feingold into law. This was the first hint – a big one – of trouble ahead. But, he was on his way to a somewhat successful, if certainly not Reaganesque, place in history.
Then came 9/11/01 and Bush found himself becoming a War President, an automatic legacy-definer. Barring some radical and unforeseen change in the tides of the war, I don’t think history is going to treat Bush well on this part of his legacy. His first, and biggest, mistake is that Bush has just never really tried to “sell” this war to the American people. FDR knew war with Japan and Germany was inevitable, but knowing it was an impossible “sell” to the American people he was forced to wait for the attack or some other overt action to justify entering America into that war. Even with very valid justification – violation of terms of surrender, firing on our aircraft, actual discovery of WMDs – Bush has still never made the effort to try to effectively rally support for the war. This has been compounded by ineffective management, poor strategy, unrealistic goals, and no definition of victory. Consequently, he’s lost virtually all support for his conduct of the war from both sides, supporters AND opponents of the idea itself.
The second issue that will define Bush’s legacy is his adamant support for amnesty for illegal aliens. Yesterday a bill emerged from the Senate committee on this issue that would effectively grant amnesty to the millions of illegals in the country. Hopefully, it won’t have enough support in the Senate to move forward, and if it does it will die in the House if things go well. This bill would grant a “Z” (for “si, I now legal!”) visa to every illegal alien now in the country, and normalize them on a path to permanent residence and/or citizenship, along with their families and relatives not in the country yet. This bill opens the floodgates. When Simpson-Mazzoli became law in 1986 we were promised it was a one-time permanent solution to the problem of illegals, and the number at that time was 3 million. Over twenty years later we have 4 to 8 times as many illegals, none of Simpson-Mazzoli’s enforcement provisions have ever been put into effect, and we’re now told that this will be the last time, it’s a one-time deal, with plenty of enforcement provisions that will trigger further blah, blah, blah….
In other words, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Bush, McCain et al try to pass off the idea this isn’t amnesty, as there are fines, forms, etc. That pig’s just got on lipstick, that’s all. This bill, if it becomes law, has the potential of being the biggest disaster for this country in history, bar none, far worse than anything the Islamic terrorists can do. With a price tag in the trillions, activists already marching in the streets demanding non-existent “rights”, our infrastructure overwhelmed, and this amnesty acting as a magnet for future border-jumpers who know they only have to wait for the next round, what can we expect for the future? I’ve read that worldwide over a billion people would willingly come to the US illegally and take their chances.
Whether he likes it or not, his support for this idea – which he didn’t mention until after winning his second term – in the face of overwhelming public opposition is also an indelible part of his legacy, hopefully as another failed idea, because its success is a terrible thought to contemplate.
Thus I predict Bush’s legacy will be a so-far-failing war and an amnesty plan that has the potential to overwhelm and destroy this country and its culture.
There’s also an instructive point to consider as we look ahead to the next election. Remember that Bush painted himself as a “compassionate conservative”, which should have given us a clue as to his proclivities. There are GOP candidates right now trying to paint themselves as something other than what they are – liberals – hoping we won’t pay attention because there’s a war on. But if we forget Bush’s legacy, in the future we’ll again find ourselves battling other “Republicans” over issues of abortion, gay marriage, gun control, more amnesty, entitlement programs, out of control spending, and all the other problems we’ve been facing during the Bush administration.
As Santayana noted, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”.