The Bush legacy and where the ‘buck’ stops

President George W. Bush leaves office with low approval ratings and a mixed record — but Republicans who would like to scapegoat “W” should knock it off. The responsibility for Bush’s failures during the past eight years is shared by Republicans from coast to coast.

The Bush successes shouldn’t be over-looked, either, and history will be easier on him than those current approval ratings. As I’ve said before, I believe that the defining event of the Bush years – the war in Iraq – was a stunning success by any historical standard. Using the words of a lot of very smart people, I put together the background and arguments for the war in a series of articles (here). It’s what you should have been hearing from Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate, but you weren’t.

In a nutshell, the fact that most people don’t realize the threat of WMDs was only one of twenty-two reasons why we went into Iraq is the ongoing shame of the Republican Party. Also, if you think we shouldn’t be exporting our values, my response is — the other side is exporting their values. Your children aren’t going to like the world they’ll inherit if only barbarism is on the advance.

During the past several months the facts about the Bush economy have been explained in detail – the latest example is in today’s Wall Street Journal. The recent meltdown is the result of a lot more than just Bush policies. Many Administration officials were warning early on of potential problems.

The sign on President Harry Truman’s desk read “The Buck Stops Here.” Those who would like to float all the policy sins of the country down the river on a Bush presidential raft need to fix their thinking when it comes to where the buck also stops. The president’s own judgment was at times faulty, but like it or not, that’s going to be the case no matter who we elect.

This is from the Truman Presidential Library’s website:

“The saying ‘the buck stops here’ derives from the slang expression ‘pass the buck’ which means passing the responsibility on to someone else.”

It’s time for all Republicans to get one of those signs, place it on their desk, quit whining about George W. Bush and start pulling their own weight.

Now let’s do a quick review of those who share in the Bush legacy. Bush Administration staff. Republican members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate during the past eight years. Ditto for Republican governors, state legislators, lower level elected and party officials, and staff.

A word on Bush’s staff. Clearly, he was ill-served by close advisors even more than President Ronald Reagan was. Unfortunately, many of us have heard about how loyalty in the Bush White House was valued above competence.

I’ve written before about Karl Rove. Karl had his strong points. He was a good campaign mechanic, but his judgment was lousy, especially as demonstrated by his choosing to support corrupt Illinois GOP insiders over reformers.

His nickname is “the Architect” — but instead it should be “the Captain,” as in “of the Titanic.” If Fox News would’ve existed in 1912, no doubt the surviving crew members of that ill-fated vessel would’ve been hired on as analysts.

When it comes to our Republican members of Congress, all I can say is that we hope and pray that the leadership era of the puffy white guy will soon come to an end at the national GOP level. And if anyone knows a U.S. rep or senator, please inform them that their staff’s aren’t all that smart either. How can literally thousands of Republicans (elected officials and their staffs) on Capitol Hill screw up things for so long?

For example, the federal government grew faster while the Republicans held power earlier in this decade than it did under Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1960s. That’s quite an accomplishment.

And don’t get me started on the behavior of these men and women when it came to moving public opinion about the war in Iraq. In my view, their inaction bordered on treason.

How about the Republican Party apparatus at all levels during those years? Where was the constructing of a real network of local and state GOP organizations that carried out the duties of an issue-based political party? For the most part when it came to recruiting, messaging, and building, leadership was absent without leave.

Was it George W. Bush’s fault that we had the GOP presidential candidates we did this past year? Surely in a nation of 300 million people we could have fielded one or two dynamic conservatives as well. God bless those who ran, but I’m hoping none of them run again in 2012.

If you think the Obama political machine can be defeated in 2012 without a complete leadership house cleaning and overhaul of the Republican Party structure from coast to coast, you’re dreaming bigger dreams than all those silly, superficial, but motivated Barack Obama supporters.

In Illinois, since last November’s election the joke that is the IL GOP continues on unabated. Smart people already realize that yet another disastrous election here still hasn’t permeated the thick skulls of those who think an Andy McKenna/Tom Cross/Christine Radogno led party has any chance in 2010.

Nationally we’re not off to a good start either. A good friend of mine who knows politics and has been paying attention to the RNC chairmanship campaign isn’t encouraged. She’s already worried that we’re going to waste a few more years and that we might have to start thinking about 2016.

Here is an example of the kind of GOP messaging failure that continues. Down the street from the RNC headquarters at the Capitol, Congressman Mike Pence was quoted in the press as saying that we can win the debate over the stimulus. When, Mike? When will these guys stop talking in the future tense and get serious about taking the nation to school on important issues?

Instead, the situation on every important policy matter facing the country is the same as how South Carolina Gov.Mark Sanford described the debate over “card check” (the elimination of secret ballots for unionizing a workplace):

“I wouldn’t say that [the implications of card-check are] widely disseminated just yet in terms of what’s going on and what it means…”

No, Mark, it’s not widely disseminated yet because the GOP doesn’t have its act together. For crying out loud, we’ve known the potential damage of this issue for how long?

It’s clear to me that George W. Bush is a good man. Despite “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” a hostile press, and an increasing insane pop culture, most Americans share my view on that point according to a recent poll.

Which makes me again wonder — where the heck was the coast to coast Republican engineered blowback to the constant attacks on that man’s character over the past eight years?

Personnel matters. Organization matters. Competence matters. Vision matters. Execution matters. The Bush years have been terribly frustrating for supporters of the entire Republican Platform. But if you think Bush is the main reason we’re where we are today, I will respectfully disagree.

Yes, many of us saw the train that is the Republican Party coming off its Platform tracks early on in the first term. But our leaders, and the rank and file, failed to get its collective act together.

We’d better start thinking anew, as Obama likes to quote Lincoln. We can’t hope for an Obama disaster. Like Bush, he too might muddle through enough and then with his ground troops win a second term. By then, a lot more serious damage could be done.

The only thing standing in the way of that is a changed and revitalized Republican Party. That buck stops with each of us.

Godspeed, President George W. Bush.

The rest of us better get to work.

Up next: Improving conservative talk radio.