Presidents face two juries: one composed of their peers, the other of historians.
One verdict is already in. The other will require years of deliberations.
On balance, however, even with the benefit of the distance of time, we believe George W. Bush's tenure will be regarded as a disaster.
We think both juries will find that -- but for vastly different reasons.
Many observers today, particularly in the "mainstream media," will look only at Iraq, and no further, and conclude that Bush failed. Some are even pushing for his indictment for war crimes.
That's just irrational.
If their problem is with the outcome of the war, they're just being delusional. Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's long-ago assertion that the war was lost -- how should history judge the declaration of surrender by the Senate's leader in the midst of war? -- it's clear that the titanic work and dogged perseverance of our volunteer Armed Services have paid off.
George W. Bush has successfully protected Americans and liberated two countries in the worst of the world's neighborhoods -- countries that have been besieged and beleaguered for decades if not centuries.
If critics want to fault Bush for invading Iraq, they do so only in a narrow hindsight eagerly oblivious to the facts: The war began as a result of Saddam Hussein's intransigence and his flouting of the first Gulf War treaty, as well as rare international will to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The military action was permissible under United Nations resolutions, it was prompted by intelligence upon which the civilized world agreed, and it was directly authorized by Congress. Democrats, notably, are on record as far back as the Clinton administration (and including Clinton himself) saying Saddam was an imminent threat and needed to be deposed.
DISPASSIONATE HISTORIANS will see this. They also will likely brand as hysteria the hatred of the president and the over-the-top claims that he somehow trampled on the Constitution. Judging from the hysterical criticism of the president, we'd say that portion of the Constitution is quite intact.
Moreover, as Islamic terror continues long after Jan. 20, 2009, historians will understand who truly caused the Recent (and ongoing) Unpleasantness.
We think, rather, historians will find the most fault with George W. Bush's domestic policies.
On that point he has been an unmitigated disaster.
Contemporaries and historians alike should find Bush's handling of Katrina reprehensible. While we thought then, and continue to believe, that state and local officials share much if not most of the blame for conditions in New Orleans (why, for example, was the rest of the Katrina-affected area so much less of a logistics disaster?), Bush's FEMA was its own catastrophe. Bush's mistake goes back to considering the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be a political appointment, which he filled with a buffoon with no relevant experience.
Of course, the bigger mistake is for Americans to depend on the federal government to begin with.
But Bush's biggest mistake?
He may have thrown the last bit of dirt on American constitutional principles and the individual freedoms they stood for.
George W. Bush is a good man, a devout Christian, from a well-heeled family. He rode his family name and wealth and fundraising abilities to the White House, and seems to believe he's a staunch conservative.
He's nowhere near it.
HE IS THE biggest-spending president in history. Under Bush came the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Johnson: the Medicare prescription entitlement, which experts say is going to help bankrupt the federal government -- and which will only expand the Entitlement Plantation.
Nor did he veto anything for years. And seven years after 9-11, our border is still not secure.
George W. Bush wanted the presidency more than he knew what he wanted to do with it -- other than cut taxes, which is fine, but which only takes you a few months into a four-year term. After the tax cuts pass, then what?
In short, he had a policy (cut taxes) when he thought he had an ideology (conservatism).
As a result, while his name normally precedes the term "tax cuts," future generations burdened by the trillions in debt he has left them may refer instead to the "Bush tax increases" on them.
It is sad and telling that George W. Bush's greatest act of leadership was to lead his party into the wildnerness. He helped them lose control of both houses of Congress, and now the White House.
Speaking of the Republican "brand" under Bush, former GOP House leader Tom Davis said, "If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."
Well, the label was misleading. Fiscally, George W. Bush turned out to be the most liberal president in U.S. history.
His party won't recover for a very long time.
The country won't even be that fortunate.