February 3, 2017

George W. Bush was a policy pioneer

George W. Bush was a policy pioneer

Much-derided, a retrospective assessment of George W. Bush’s Presidency reveals the troublesome Texan to be a pioneer in taking on many of the policy issues we take for given today, argues Robert Seddon.

Oh, how we laughed. For eight long years. Especially once he’d stood on a warship with a ‘mission accomplished’ banner (though possibly the Iraqis didn’t). Certainly, no-one could claim that George W. Bush had consistently perfect foresight. Yet in twenty-twenty hindsight, what are we if not Dubya’s children?

It was the oracular Mister Bush who said that ‘either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’—and who now doubts that you’re either with us or against us? If there is one thing everyone in print agrees about it is the entrenchment of disagreement everywhere. Like some lost Tom Lehrer lyric, the liberals hate the Trumpists, so do half the conservatives, the Remoaners hate the Brexiteers—and then there are the Scots. The poor Jew in the Northern Irish joke (“But are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”) would nowadays also be expected to declare views on climatology, the Single Market and the metaphysics of gender identity.

It was the Delphic Dubya too who declared war on terrorism; and who is not battling some ‘-ism’ now? Bush was mocked for waging war upon an abstract noun. (How anti-racism campaigners escaped the same lampooning was, in retrospect, never quite explained.) Now all the juiciest targets have something of the textbook about them, from neoliberalism to ageism to patriarchal heteronormativity. Terror, we formerly complained, is not a military target but a state of mind. Now everybody has a phobia to fight in other people’s minds, from Islamophobia to transphobia to Trumphobia.

Bush blazed the trail of porous borders long before Merkel; he pioneered ‘compassionate conservatism’ before May and Cameron got to work on the ‘nasty party’. Before Trump promised to make America great again, Bush was hiring associates from the Project for the New American Century: in its own way quite definitely putting America first.

How we chortled at his folksy, homespun Texan wisdom—when we all had faith in clever pollsters and listened breathlessly to economic forecasts. True genius is proverbially misunderstood in its own age; and that was a different era, when idealists went to Davos to protest against globalisation, promising that ‘another world is possible’ before 2016 made the dream come true. How we miss the days of Bush, now that instead of American hegemony our concern is shaky American commitment to NATO.

The time is clearly ripe for reassessment of the legacy of this titanic figure: the father of modern socio-political thought, Mister George W. Bush.

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