George W. Bush’s Conservative Legacy

The president’s former speechwriter doesn’t tell the whole story when he tries to defend his old boss’ record.

Marc Thiessen, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, has saddled up to defend his old boss’ reputation, who, according to Thiessen, “did more to advance conservative priorities than any president that came before him.”

Thiessen admits that Bush oversaw a dramatic expansion of government which he calls a “black mark on his record.” Indeed, during the eight years of the Bush Presidency, federal spending nearly doubled! Even taking into account two Middle East wars, that makes it hard to argue that Bush was particularly conservative.

But, notes Thiessen, there is “a string of unprecedented conservative achievements” that must not be overlooked. Foremost among them: tax cuts; “the largest tax cuts in history,” according to Thiessen. What he neglects to mention though is that most of these were temporary and certainly not of the across-the-board sort of tax relief that conservatives ought to champion.

Thiessen then cites Bush’ free-trade record. The president “enacted free-trade agreements with seventeen nations, more than any president in history.” Yet this was offset by protectionist measures for steel and lumber. Again, Thiessen doesn’t tell the whole story and this is the mantra of his entire essay.

On health care, Bush created Health Savings Accounts, “the most important free-market health care reform in a generation.” But what of the fiscally irresponsible, “big government” program of prescription drug entitlement? Thiessen makes no mention of it.

“Bush won a Supreme Court ruling declaring school vouchers constitutional” and does deserve some credit on education. But missing from the story is the infamous No Child Left Behind Act which expanded the size and influence of the Department of Education considerably and doubled federal spending on elementary, secondary and vocational education.

Thiessen does mention Bush’s pro-life record as well as his military accomplishments, including massive defense spending, withdrawing from the International Criminal Court and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and “bringing freedom” to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq: “the largest expansion of human liberty since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” There is no room for even a shred of criticism in Thiessen’s analysis evidently. He doesn’t explain how ever growing defense expenditures contributed to unprecedented deficits. He doesn’t explain that American prestige was shattered by the president repeatedly ignoring international accords. And he obviously doesn’t bother to point out that there is nothing conservative about fighting wars overseas for no other purpose that to “bring freedom” to subjugated peoples.

Finally, there is much lacking in the story which Thiessen presents, including, but certainly not limited to, the regulatory overkill that was the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002; the “ownership society” crusade that inflated the housing bubble; and the 2008 multibillion dollar bailouts of failing Wall Street corporations which were supposedly “too big to fail.”

Yet, in Thiessen’s words, George W. Bush “established a conservative record without parallel.” That is why, he claims, “the vast majority of conservatives across the country supported President Bush and stood with him through his last moments in office.” His approval ratings tell a different story with just over 30 percent of Americans supporting Bush by the time he left the White House. Perhaps they were the only real conservatives, in Thiessen’s view?


  1. Those may well celebrate George Bush’s so-called achievements, but he plunged the country into economic disaster, managed to foul-up international relations, dived into wars that really didn’t do anything, and was generally off-duty when things like a major hurricane hit New Orleans. George Bush did nothing as President other than to worsen this country. His vacation rate was about the highest in Presidential history.

  2. Bush was a statist and a big spender, much more than Reagan or even Clinton. We now have a similar one in office.

    Oh well

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