COMMENTARY | The New York Times seems to have pronounced George H. W. Bush the greatest living former president. The National Interest doesn’t know what to make of that, considering the elder Bush’s legacy a mixed bag.
On the one hand, Bush 41’s foreign policy record was first rate. He not only presided over the fall of the Soviet Union and the South Africa apartheid regime, but his wars, in Panama and in the Gulf, did not turn into quagmires. Of course he did leave Saddam Hussein for his son to deal with, so the end of the otherwise successful Gulf War was not that satisfying.
On the other hand he did cave to Democrats where it came to raising taxes. That more than anything made sure that he was a one term president, ushering in the presidency of our version of Charles II, Bill Clinton.
On an aside, his Space Exploration Initiative was a great idea, but badly handled. Bush the elder was blind-sided by Democratic opposition to the goal of returning people to the moon and going to Mars, not to mention the sabotage inflicted by his own NASA administrator Dick Truly.
Still, perhaps the New York Times has something there. The only reason the Clinton administration was not more of a disaster was that he had the adult supervision of a Republican congress. Jimmy Carter was not so lucky, however. For many people the legacy of Bush the Younger is still out, though all of those “Miss Me Yet?” posters suggest that he does awfully well compared to the current president.
Bush the Elder might have become as well regarded as Reagan, the man he served as vice president and from whom he learned much, though sadly not enough, if he had resisted raising taxes, as he did famously in his “no new taxes” speech. Sadly the urge to compromise and reach across the aisle got the better of him. So he legacy, while good on the balance, remains mixed.