Today President Obama and all four living ex-presidents attend the dedication of the $500 million George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Many progressives will remember Bush as a contender for the "worst president ever," saying he more aptly deserves a multi-million-dollar prison cell for a litany of war crimes.
Amazingly, the Bush library seeks to ask visitors "What would you have done?" if you were in this president’s shoes. The ex-president’s defenders are betting that the public will reconsider their judgments after a hefty dose of historical amnesia. Bush has been absent from political debates in recent years, instead making millions in private speeches. Today, his popularity is even with Obama's; both have 47 percent approval rating.
Let’s look at 50 reasons, some large and some small, why W. inspired so much anger.
1. He stole the presidency in 2000. People may forget that Republicans in Florida purged more than 50,000 African-American voters before Election Day, and then went to the Supreme Court where the GOP-appointed majority stopped a recount that would have awarded the presidency to Vice-President Al Gore if all votes were counted. National news organizations verified that outcome long after Bush had been sworn in.
2. Bush’s lies started in that race. Bush ran for office claiming he was a “uniter, not a divider.” Even though he received fewer popular votes than Gore, he quickly claimed he had the mandate from the American public to push his right-wing agenda.
3. He covered up his past. He was a party boy, the scion of a powerful political family who got away with being a deserter during the Vietnam War. He was reportedly AWOL for over a year from his assigned unit, the Texas Air National Guard, which other military outfits called the "Champagne Division.”
4. He loved the death penalty. As Texas governor from 1995-2000, he signedthe most execution orders of any governor in U.S. history—152 people, including the mentally ill and women who were domestic abuse victims. He spared one man’s life, a serial killer.
5. He was a corporate shill from Day 1. Bush locked up the GOP nomination by raising more campaign money from corporate boardrooms than anyone at that time. He lunched with CEOs who would jet into Austin to "educate" him about their political wish lists.
6. He gutted global political progress. He pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol which set requirements for 38 nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, saying that abiding by the agreement would “harm our economy and hurt our workers.”
7. He embraced global isolationism. He withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, over Russia’s protest, taking the U.S. in a direction not seen since World War I.
8. He ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. He ignored the Aug. 6, 2001 White House intelligence briefing titled, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” Meanwhile, his chief anti-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, and first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, testified in Congress that he was intent on invading Iraq within days of becoming president.
9. Ramped up war on drugs, not terrorists. The Bush administration had twice as many FBI agents assigned to the war on drugs than fighting terrorism before 9/11, and kept thousands in that role after the terror attacks.
10. “My Pet Goat.” He kept reading a picture book to grade-schoolers for seven minutes after his top aides told him that the World Trade Centers had been attacked in 9/11. Then Air Force One flew away from Washington, D.C., vanishing for hours after the attack.
11. Squandered global goodwill after 9/11. Bush thumbed his nose at world sympathy for the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, by declaring a global war on terrorism and declaring “you are either with us or against us.”
12. Bush turned to Iraq not Afghanistan. The Bush administration soon started beating war drums for an attack on Iraq, where there was no proven Al Qaeda link, instead of Afghanistan, where the 9/11 bombers had trained and Osama bin Laden was based. His 2002 State of the Union speech declared that Iraq was part of an “Axis of Evil.”
13. Attacked United Nation weapons inspectors. The march to war in Iraqstarted with White House attacks on the credibility of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, whose claims that Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons proved to be true.
14. He flat-out lied about Iraq’s weapons. In a major speech in October 2002, he said that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to send unmanned aircraft to the U.S. with bombs that could range from chemical weapons to nuclear devices. “We cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud,” he said.
15. He ignored the U.N. and launched a war. The Bush administration tried to get the U.N. Security Council to authorize an attack on Iraq, which it refused to do. Bush then decided to lead a "preemptive" attack regardless of international consequences. He did not wait for any congressional authorization to launch a war.
16. Abandoned international Criminal Court. Before invading Iraq, Bush told the U.N. that the U.S. was withdrawing from ratifying the International Criminal Court Treaty to protect American troops from persecution and to allow it to pursue preemptive war.
17. Colin Powell’s false evidence at U.N. The highly decorated soldier turned Secretary of State presented false evidence at the U.N. as the American mainstream media began its jingoistic drumbeat to launch a war of choice on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
18. He launched a war on CIA whistleblowers. When a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson, wrote a New York Times op-ed saying there was no nuclear threat from Iraq, the White House retaliated by leaking the name and destroying the career of his wife, Valerie Plame, one of the CIA’s top national security experts.
19. Bush pardoned the Plame affair leaker. Before leaving office, Bushpardoned the vice president’s top staffer, Scooter Libby, for leaking Plame’s name to the press.
20. Bush launched the second Iraq War. In April 2003, the U.S. military invaded Iraq for the second time in two decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and more than a million refugees as a years of sectarian violence took hold on Iraq. Nearly 6,700 U.S. soldiers have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
21. Baghdad looted except for oil ministry. The Pentagon failure to plan for a military occupation and transition to civilian rule was seen as Baghdad was looted while troops guarded the oil ministry, suggesting this war was fought for oil riches, not terrorism.
22. The war did not make the U.S. safer. In 2006, a National Intelligence Estimate (a consensus report of the heads of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies)asserted that the Iraq war had increased Islamic radicalism and had worsened the terror threat.
23. U.S. troops were given unsafe gear. From inadequate vests from protection against snipers to Humvees that could not protect soldiers from roadside bombs, the military did not sufficiently equip its soldiers in Iraq, leading to an epidemic of brain injuries.
24. Meanwhile, the war propaganda continued. From landing on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit to declare “mission accomplished” to surprising troops in Baghdad with a Thanksgiving turkey that was a table decoration used as a prop, Bush defended his war of choice by using soldiers as PR props.
25. He never attended soldiers' funerals. For years after the war started, Bushnever attended a funeral even though as of June 2005, 144 soldiers (of the 1,700 killed thus far) were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetary, about two miles from the White House.
26. Meanwhile, war profiteering surged. The list of top Bush administration officials whose former corporate employers made billions in Pentagon contracts starts with Vice-President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, which made $39.5 billion, and included his daughter, Liz Cheney, who ran a $300 million Middle East partnership program.
27. Bush ignored international ban on torture. Suspected terrorists were captured and tortured by the U.S. military in Baghdad’s Abu Gharib prison, in the highest profile example of how the Bush White House ignored international agreements, such as the Geneva Convention, that banned torture, and created a secret system of detention that was unmasked when photos made their way to the American media outlets.
28. Created the blackhole at Gitmo and renditions. The Bush White House created the offshore military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as secretdetention sites in eastern Europe to evade domestic and military justice systems. Many of the men still jailed in Cuba were turned over to the U.S. military by bounty hunters.
29. Bush violated U.S. Constitution as well.The Bush White House ignored basic civil liberties, most notably by launching a massive domestic spying program where millions of Americans’ online activities were monitored with the help of big telecom companies. The government had no search warrant or court authority for its electronic dragnet.
30. Iraq war created federal debt crisis. The total costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars will reach between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, when the long-term medical costs are added in for wounded veterans, a March 2013 report by a Harvard researcher has estimated. Earlier reports said the wars cost $2 billion a week.
31. He cut veterans’ healthcare funding. At the height of the Iraq war, the White House cut funding for veterans’ healthcare by several billion dollars, slashed more than one billion from military housing and opposed extending healthcare to National Guard families, even as they were repeatedly tapped for extended and repeat overseas deployments.
32. Then Bush decided to cut income taxes. In 2001 and 2003, a series of bills lowered income tax rates, cutting federal revenues as the cost of the foreign wars escalated. The tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthy, with roughly one-quarter going to the top one percent of incomes compared to 8.9% going to the middle 20 percent. The cuts were supposed to expire in 2013, but most are still on the books.
33. Assault on reproductive rights. From the earliest days of his first term, the Bush White House led a prolonged assault on reproductive rights. He cut funds for U.N. family planning programs, barred military bases from offering abortions, put right-wing evangelicals in regulatory positions where they rejected new birth control drugs, and issued regulations making fetuses—but not women—eligible for federal healthcare.
34. Cut Pell Grant loans for poor students. His administration froze Pell Grants for years and tightened eligibility for loans, affecting 1.5 million low-income students. He also eliminated other federal job training programs that targeted young people.
35. Turned corporations loose on environment. Bush’s environmental record was truly appalling, starting with abandoning a campaign pledge to tax carbon emissions and then withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases. The Sierra Club lists 300 actions his staff took to undermine federal laws, from cutting enforcement budgets to putting industry lobbyists in charge of agencies to keeping energy policies secret.
36.. Said evolution was a theory—like intelligent design. One of his most inflammatory comments was saying that public schools should teach that evolution is a theory with as much validity as the religious belief in intelligent design, or God’s active hand in creating life.
37. Misguided school reform effort. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiativemade preparation for standardized tests and resulting test scores the top priority in schools, to the dismay of legions of educators who felt that there was more to learning than taking tests.
38. Appointed flank of right-wing judges. Bush’s two Supreme Court picks—Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito—have reliably sided with pro-business interests and social conservatives. He also elevated U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering to an appeals court, despite his known segregationist views.
39. Gutted the DOJ’s voting rights section. Bush’s Justice Department appointees led a multi-year effort to prosecute so-called voter fraud, includingfiring seven U.S. attorneys who did not pursue overtly political cases because of lack of evidence.
40. Meanwhile average household incomes fell. When Bush took office in 2000, median household incomes were $52,500. In 2008, they were $50,303, a drop of 4.2 percent, making Bush the only recent two-term president to preside over such a drop.
41. And millions more fell below the poverty line. When Bill Clinton left office, 31.6 million Americans were living in poverty. When Bush left office, there were 39.8 million, according to the U.S. Census, an increase of 26.1 percent. The Census said two-thirds of that growth occurred before the economic downturn of 2008.
42. Poverty among children also exploded. The Census also found that 11.6 million children lived below the poverty line when Clinton left office. Under Bush, that number grew by 21 percent to 14.1 million.
43. Millions more lacked access to healthcare. Following these poverty trends, the number of Americans without health insurance was 38.4 million when Clinton left office. When Bush left, that figure had grown by nearly 8 million to 46.3 million, the Census found. Those with employer-provided benefits fell every year he was in office.
44. Bush let black New Orleans drown. Hurricane Katrina exposed Bush’s attitude toward the poor. He didn’t visit the city after the storm destroyed the poorest sections. He praised his Federal Emergency Management Agency director for doing a "heck of a job" as the federal government did little to help thousands in the storm’s aftermath and rebuilding.
45. Yet pandered to religious right. Months before Katrina hit, Bush flew back to the White House to sign a bill to try to stop the comatose Terri Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed, saying the sanctity of life was at stake.
46. Set record for fewest press conferences. During his first term that was defined by the 9/11 attacks, he had the fewest press conferences of any modern president and had never met with the New York Times editorial board.
47. But took the most vacation time. Reporters analyzing Bush’s record foundthat he took off 1,020 days in two four-year terms—more than one out of every three days. No other modern president comes close. Bush also set the record for the longest vacation among modern presidents—five weeks, the Washington Post noted.
48. Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld. Not since Richard Nixon’s White House and the era of the Watergate burglary and expansion of the Vietnam War have there been as many power-hungry and arrogant operators holding the levers of power. Cheney ran the White House; Rove the political operation for corporations and the religious right; and Rumsfeld oversaw the wars.
49. He’s escaped accountability for his actions. From Iraq war General Tommy Franks’ declaration that “we don’t do body counts” to numerous efforts to impeach Bush and top administration officials—primarily over launching the war in Iraq—he has never been held to account in any official domestic or international tribunal.
50. He may have stolen the 2004 election as well. The closest Bush came to a public referendum on his presidency was the 2004 election, which came down to the swing state of Ohio. There the GOP’s voter suppression tactics rivaledFlorida in 2000 and many unresolved questions remain about whether the former GOP Secretary of State altered the Election Night totals from rural Bible Belt counties.
Any bright spots? Conservatives will lambaste lists like this for finding nothing good about a president like W. So, yes, he created the largest ocean preserve offshore from Hawaii in his second term. And in his final year in office, his initiative to fight AIDS across Africa has been credited with saving many thousands of lives. But on balance, George W. Bush was more than eight years of missed opportunities for America and the world. He was a disaster, leaving much of America and the world in much worse shape than when he took the oath of office in 2001. His reputation should not be resurrected or restored or seen as anything other than what it was.
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).
This article originally appeared on AlterNet. Republished with permission.
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