Former President George W. Bush appears to have discovered a new pastime: virtue-signaling.
On Thursday, the 43rd president piously delivered a full beat down on President Trump and the populist and economic nationalist movement that elected him.
Bush even traveled from Dallas to New York City to deliver it—just to make sure that nobody in Manhattan missed his message, which basically amounted to: I’m a good guy, unlike you-know-who. So look: I just dumped on Donald Trump! Please like me now, finally!
And just like that, Dubya was duly rewarded with the headlines he craved, such as this keeper from CNN: “George W. Bush just laid a major smackdown on Trumpism.”
Without a doubt, Trump-bashing journalists will soon discover other virtues in the Texan—what a good man of faith he is, what a fine painter he is, and on and on.
Yes, this is the same Bush who kept silent during the Obama years. But now that a Republican is in office, Dubya has found his voice.
And who can blame him for seeking some small bit of media love after suffering so much at their hands when he was in the White House? (Anyone remember the “Bush as Chimp” meme?) Bush, who left office with a 34 percent approval rating, is now finally getting some good ink.
In fact, 43’s quest for a post-presidential-image rehab is starting to resemble that of another failed-president-turned-full-time-virtue-signaler, Jimmy Carter.
Back in 1980, the 39th president lost the White House to Ronald Reagan in a massive landslide, and yet for the better part of four decades now, Carter has been taking potshots at his Republican successors, and the media have loved every minute of it.
But let us pause for a moment to consider why Bush had a 34 percent approval rating. I know, at this point it’s probably unnecessary to explain why Dubya’s presidency was an unmitigated disaster, but for the benefit of posterity (and my own catharsis) please indulge me as I make the case one more time with feeling.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave aside the horror that was Bush’s foreign policy, other than to say that his shortsighted hubristic foreign adventures cost America and our allies dearly in blood and treasure. The fallout will be felt for generations. But I’ll leave the chronicle of those tragedies for another day.
For now, I’ll confine myself to a few of Dubya’s domestic policy disasters. I had no trouble coming up with five off the top of my head. Please note that this is not in any way an exhaustive list of Bush Fails (as if such a list were possible).
1. Trade Globalism
Picking up where Bush 41 and Bill Clinton had left off, Bush 43 was a hardcore free trader.
As his own White House website volunteered, he more than quintupled the number of free trade agreements that the U.S. made with other countries, from three to 16. And not surprisingly, the Bush 43 administration, along with other administrations, strongly supported the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, which is designed, in its very non-transparent essence, to crush national sovereignty. This ISDS system, we might note, was also at the heart of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Trump killed earlier this year.
2. Staunch Support for the North American Free Trade Accord
Bush 43 inherited NAFTA from Clinton, but he embraced that trade deal as if it were his own. According to one study released in 2013, NAFTA has cost the U.S. more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs.
3. Carelessness About Homeland Security
On August 6, 2001, the President’s Daily Brief—the daily national security document that is supposed to guide action—included the following words of warning: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Only years later, did we learn that this warning—which the Bush administration desperately sought to keep classified—came after other warnings in the same vein.
On May 1, 2001, for example, the CIA told the White House that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. And on June 22, the same Daily Brief reported that al Qaeda strikes could be “imminent.”
As we all know, Bush did little or nothing after these warnings. Although a few days after 9-11, he did travel to a mosque to intone the immortal words: “Islam is peace.”
4. Immigration Globalism
Bush’s zealotry on behalf of free trade was exceeded only by his zealotry on behalf of open borders.
Even after 9-11, Bush made no serious attempt to seal the U.S.-Mexico border, and then, in 2007, he unleashed his plan for “comprehensive immigration reform.” That bill was the result of Bush’s close cooperation with the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy, plus, of course, Kennedy’s allies on this issue, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
As Bush White House aide Karl Rove said in support of the bill, “I don’t want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.” Translation: Rove wanted to import cheap labor to pick tomatoes, make beds, and do anything else that the Rove Class might wish. Happily, after an epic uprising from the grassroots, that 2007 bill was defeated. Yet even today, Bush and his allies—including brother Jeb—continue to strongly support border-opening immigration legislation.
5. The Fannie Mae Housing Bubble
In terms of domestic finance, perhaps the biggest scandal of the 21st century has been the housing bubble, inflated by Fannie Mae and other housing-finance agencies, which finally burst in 2007-8.
Surely you remember Fannie, Freddie, and all the rest? The overall term for them was “government-sponsored enterprises”; that meant that executives could pay themselves private-sector salaries while enjoying public-sector immunization from risk. It’s been reported, for example, that James A. Johnson, a former Walter Mondale staffer who became CEO of Fannie Mae in 1991 and stayed for seven years, made $200 million for his “public service.” Needless to say, by the time Fannie collapsed, Johnson was long gone, his money snug in his pocket. So as is usually the case in such debacles, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Still, here’s one summary take on Bush’s role:
After the Enron scandal, Bush backed and signed the aggressively regulatory Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But when SEC head William Donaldson tried to boost regulation of mutual and hedge funds, he was blocked by Bush’s advisers at the White House as well as other powerful Republicans and quit. Plus, let’s face it, the meltdown happened on Bush’s watch.
Okay, so that’s five domestic disasters from Bush 43. That was plenty; but, of course, Bush isn’t through yet; he still has more of his post-presidency ahead of him.
To put 43’s future in perspective, we can note that he is now 71, and he seems healthy enough. Meanwhile, Carter is 93. So by that reckoning, Dubya could easily have more decades in which to trash Trump and otherwise spin his own debacle-filled record.
If so, there’s one thing we can be sure of about Bush: He’ll be on CNN a lot.