The first time I met George W. Bush, and the only time I talked to him one-on-one, was in 1993, the year before he was elected governor of Texas.
We met in Arlington, when Bush was a high-profile executive with the Texas Rangers baseball team and I was a Fort Worth Star-Telegram business reporter. I interviewed him for a profile story on Rusty Rose, a well-known Dallas investor who shared equal rank with Bush as co-managing general partner of the Rangers.
Bush graciously granted me perhaps an hour. As I recall, we talked about Rose, the oil industry and Bush’s father’s defeat in his 1992 re-election bid for president. I didn’t envision Bush getting elected governor, much less president. Despite his Ivy League background and family pedigree, he seemed like a rather average guy.
I wish historians could say truthfully that Bush’s performance in his eight years as president was “rather average.” But, sadly, that would be far too kind an assessment. He exits the White House amid dismal popularity ratings, a deep economic recession, rising unemployment, a severe housing crisis, a domestic auto industry on the ropes, record federal budget deficits, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the failure to successfully address a litany of systemic problems (the looming Social Security and Medicare funding crises, healthcare, federal tax reform and comprehensive immigration reform).
Bush has left President-elect Barack Obama to deal with a catastrophic mess on a variety of fronts. I’ve tried hard to see Bush’s good side. I think he is, for the most part, a sincere person who usually says what he believes.
He delivered a good speech at the Republican National Convention in 2000, giving me hope that he would be a better president than I expected. But he never lived up to his billing as a “compassionate conservative” who would be a “uniter, not a divider.”
He provided inspiring leadership in the dark days after 9/11. But then he got us into an unnecessary war in Iraq that has been very costly in terms of American and Iraqi lives lost and dollars spent. While the “surge” has been somewhat successful, it’s difficult to believe that Iraq will emerge as a strong, democratic nation where Sunni, Shia and Kurds live in harmony. And, oh yes, Osama bin Laden is still presumably on the lam as of this writing.
Despite his Harvard M.B.A., Bush proved inept as a steward of our tax dollars. He entered office amid a projected continuation of budget surpluses and leaves it with huge federal budget deficits aggravated by wasteful spending, excessive tax cuts for the rich and his reluctance to veto spending bills.
We can’t forget the Bush administration’s hapless response to Katrina, ranking among the more dismal relief efforts in U.S. history.
X Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.