George W. Bush was, to my mind, the biggest failure as president in postwar history — more than Jimmy Carter, more than Richard Nixon. His choices were uniformly wrong. Budget surplus? Let's fritter it away. Terror warning? Ignored. Terror attack? Respond with attack on Iraq. Devastating hurricane? Heckuva job, Brownie. And, finally, he left us with the Great Recession.
But now, we see, that list doesn't even encompass the worst of his legacy.
For all his faults, you see, Bush doesn't strike me as a bad man. And more than any major Republican before him — at least in the post-Civil Rights Era — Bush seemed to want to treat African Americans as part of America: No Child Left Behind, despite its problems, as aimed at improving educational outcomes for blacks. His RNC chairman acknowledged and refuted the GOP's long-running "Southern strategy." And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, he helped get funding for the national museum of African-American history past reluctant Republicans. (In this he was aided by Sam Brownback. Yeah, I'm still struggling with that, too.)
And so I wonder:
If Bush's presidency hadn't been so thoroughly discredited by nearly everything else that happened in Bush's presidency — if he hadn't failed so badly that even Republicans turned their back on him — would we have today's Trumpist GOP, with white nationalism and, yes, racism resonating so strongly with the base of a major political party?
I do believe the surge in white nationalism is, in part, a backlash to America's first black president. But even Barack Obama became inevitable only because of Bush's failures — chiefly, Iraq — and the complicity of his opponents (Hillary, John McCain) in those failures.
So I'm left pondering: If George W. Bush been a success, might other Republicans view his example on race as part of the template to follow?