Taking the Measure: The Presidency of George W. Bush

By Arbour, Brian | The Journal of Southern History, February 2015 | Go to article overview

Taking the Measure: The Presidency of George W. Bush


Arbour, Brian, The Journal of Southern History


Taking the Measure: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Edited by Donald R. Kelley and Todd G. Shields. Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Pp. [viii], 173. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-62349019-5; cloth, $40.00, ISBN 978-1-62349-018-8.)

This volume represents an early attempt to understand the legacy of George W. Bush's presidency. The collection consists of papers delivered at a 2011 conference of political scientists held at the University of Arkansas, focusing on the state of the presidency, the Republican Party, and the conservative Republican political regime as political institutions and how George W. Bush altered the strength of these institutions.

Bert Rockman's chapter argues that while there are important formal and informal limits on presidential power, presidents are capable of overcoming these obstacles to implement their favored policies. Using this balanced perspective on presidential expectations, the book has two clear conclusions: first, the Bush presidency was clearly impactful, strengthening the institution of the presidency and reshaping the policy priorities of the country; and second, Bush's weaknesses as an executive overwhelmed his administration's ability to successfully implement its policy agenda at home and abroad, severely limiting the Bush administration's political reach.

The policy legacy of George W. Bush is significant. He reshaped American policy to forcefully attack terrorism after September 11, while increasing funds for homeland security. He invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq as part of these efforts, producing a protracted, frustrating, and mostly unsuccessful war in both countries. On the domestic front. Bush created a prescription drug plan under Medicare and enacted sweeping education reforms (No Child Left Behind). Bush's economic policies were highlighted by across-the-board tax cuts passed at the beginning of his first term. Despite these tax cuts, Raymond Tatalovich concludes, "The economy was never a success story for Pres. George W. Bush" due to modest economic growth during his two terms (p. 94).

The authors criticize Bush less for his policy choices than for his weaknesses as a manager and his ineffective organization of the Office of the President. Robert Maranto argues that Bush's failure to sufficiently plan for the invasion and its aftermath in Iraq and his inability to adapt to changing circumstances on the ground doomed his presidency. Alexander Moens blames these errors on a White House management style that was too hands-off. …

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