Judging Bush

Judging Bush

Judging Bush

Judging Bush


There is no shortage of opinions on the legacy that George W. Bush will leave as 43rd President of the United States. Recognizing that Bush the Younger has been variously described as dimwitted, opportunistic, innovative, and bold, it would be presumptuous to draw any hard and fast conclusions about how history will view him. Nevertheless, it is well within academia's ability to begin to make preliminary judgments by weighing the evidence we do have and testing assumptions.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the initially successful military campaign in Afghanistan, Bush and his administration enjoyed nearly unprecedented popularity. But after failures in Iraq and in the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush's approval ratings plummeted. Guided by a new framework, Judging Bush boldly takes steps to evaluate the highs and lows of the Bush legacy according to four types of competence: strategic, political, tactical, and moral. It offers a first look at the man, his domestic and foreign policies, and the executive office's relationship to the legislative and judicial branches from a distinguished and ideologically diverse set of award-winning political scientists and White House veterans. Topics include Bush's decision-making style, the management of the executive branch, the role and influence of Dick Cheney, elections and party realignment, the Bush economy, Hurricane Katrina, No Child Left Behind, and competing treatments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contributors include Lara M. Brown, David B. Cohen, Jeffrey E. Cohen, Laura Conley, Jack Covarrubias, John J. DiIulio, Jr., William A. Galston, Frederick M. Hess, Karen M. Hult, Lori A. Johnson, Robert G. Kaufman, Anne M. Khademian, Lawrence J. Korb, Patrick McGuinn, Michael Moreland, Costas Panagopoulos, James P. Pfiffner, Richard E. Redding, Neil Reedy, Andrew Rudalevige, Charles E. Walcott, and Shirley Anne Warshaw.


The genesis of this book came early in the second Bush term while I served in Villanova University's political science department, a productive and humane environment for teaching and research with wonderfully stimulating hallway conversations —as academia is meant to be but all too often is not. An outstanding graduate student, Neil Reedy, had insisted against the advice of Professor David Barrett and me not to write his thesis on presidential greatness. We warned Neil that most of the attempts to judge presidents are fuzzy to the point of incoherence. Lacking rigor, many such works serve merely to reinforce the predispositions of their authors, adding more heat than light. As Al Felzenberg (2008) points out in his insightful The Leaders We Deserved (And a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, in academia most of the arbiters of presidential greatness favor activist presidents who grow government, reflecting the left-of-center biases of modern social scientists and historians. the few right-of-center approaches are similarly “results oriented.”

Eventually, Neil convinced me that despite the obstacles, both democracy and inquiry require that voters and scholars have some basis for judging presidents. in his thesis, Neil took from the best of the presidency literature to set forth reasonably coherent criteria for judgment. His provocative efforts led David Barrett, Tom Lansford, and former Villanova graduate student and Brown University doctoral candidate Jeremy Johnson to join me in discussions of how to make judging presidents more systematic, particularly in light of the controversial George W. Bush presidency. To do so, Tom, Jeremy, and I brought together nearly two dozen prominent scholars. This book is the result.

Of course, as Bush himself points out, historians still debate the presidency of the first gw, George Washington; so it requires some chutzpah for us to spring out of the box with evaluations of the forty-third presidency (Shenkman 2007). To this we have three responses. First, by employing the . . .

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