Perhaps not surprisingly, I come down on John Derbyshire’s side of this debate: “I wish George W. Bush would shut up and go away.” Let’s stipulate that a number of his individual policies — including those expiring tax cuts! — were sound, that he was a decent guy, and that even in his faults he was not the uniquely malevolent figure that many liberals (and some paleoconservatives) make him out to be. On several big questions, his administration differed from Barack Obama’s in degree but not kind.
Although Bush did favor legislation that would have reigned in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he also supported Community Reinvestment Act-style extensions of credit to the uncreditworthy to the same degree as Obama and Bill Clinton. He and his Federal Reserve appointees favored, or at least did nothing to stop, the loose monetary policies that helped inflate the financial bubble. He not only refused to cut domestic spending to pay for his post-9/11 anti-terrorism campaign but actually continued to increase it, paying for two wars on credit. When the financial collapse inevitably came, he responded by supporting the bailouts.
When it came to increasing federal spending, enlarging the national debt, growing the government, enhancing Washington’s role in health care, and encouraging state-managed crony capitalism, Bush may not be in the same league as Obama. But he definitely started the country on the path Obama has accelerated, reversing the fiscal discipline a Republican Congress once imposed on Clinton. And to the extent that his policies encouraged the housing and financial bubble, Bush helped pave the way for Obama and the Democrats to come in and push the country to the left in those areas where Bush was relatively conservative.
To absolve George W. Bush of these things is to make the case against Obama incoherent apart from mere partisanship. And it is to let Bush-brand Republicans off the hook for the political defeats that made an Obama administration, with special guest stars Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, possible in the first place.