6 – FREE TRADE
Bush has been swamped throughout his presidency by economic crises not of his own making. Of course, along with these crises came pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to adopt increasingly protectionist measures.
To his credit, Bush has largely refused to go down this road, and has left trade with overseas exporters largely unrestricted. Indeed, even when Bush couldn’t win success for the Doha Round at the WTO, he still championed free trade globally, signing bilateral free trade treaties with countries as varied as Chile, Australia and South Korea.
Given how President Obama was recently seen flirting with the idea of abrogating NAFTA, it is worth considering just how important a president is committed to free trade.
5 – AN END TO THE DYNASTIES
From the Bushes to the Clintons to the Kennedies, American democracy tends to create its own aristocratic class. While Bush may not deserve all of the criticism currently levelled against him, the public approbrium may at least have the unintended benefit of convincing Americans there is more to a candidate than their last name.
4 – IRAQ
At the end of the day, Iraq will always be Bush’s most famous legacy project. Today, as American troops prepare to ease themselves out of the country, and Iraqis prepare for this year’s elections, the security situation is looking up. With attacks on American troops at their lowest point since the year of the invasion, and with attacks in general down by as much as 75 per cent since March, it is looking more and more as if Iraq’s army and police may be able to protect the country on its own.
With the Iraqi government running large surpluses, and with its economy predicted to grow between five and seven per cent in 2009 alone, it’s not hard to imagine the government leveraging its current security situation into a period of sustained growth.
3 – SUPREME COURT
During President Bush’s eight years, he has had the opportunity to appointment two extremely conservative judges to the top court (John Roberts and Sam Alito). Along with the conservatives already on the bench (Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy), these judges now control a functional majority on the court – for the first time in perhaps half a century. The impact on social policy, from a reconsideration of Roe to the strengthening of contract rights, cannot be overstressed.
2 – HEALTH AND EDUCATION
Although Bush is not quite as well known for his domestic policy, he has been responsible for major overhauls to both Medicare and American education policy. No Child Left Behind, Bush’s education platform, has been widely hailed as providing both accountability and material improvement for American schools. In addition to obliging states to track schools’ actual performance against national standards, NCLB also obliges states to track improvement not just in general, but also amongst lower-performing minority groups. Where schools have not delivered results, NCLB permits parents to move their child, and their funding, to better, functioning schools.
In Healthcare, Bush was responsible for a $48 billion increase in seniors’ Medicare coverage. This increase, which also includes moderate Pharmacare, also provides support for insurance and pharmaceutical companies that supplement the public system.
Broadly construed, Bush’s legacy is both an expansion of public systems and the introduction of real consumer choice into two of America’s largest public services. His legacy is one of increasing citizen control at the expense of the entrenched benefits of teachers’ unions and doctor associations.
1 – AIDS IN AFRICA
Bush’s most lasting success is certain to be his continuing commitment to halting the spread of AIDS in Africa. Founded in 2003, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids in Africa (PEPFAR) provided $15 billion over five years for the treatment of AIDS in outbreak countries throughout Africa. The initial program, which ended in 2008, is said to have provided support services to 10 million AIDS victims, and provided retroviral drugs to as many as two million people (up from only 50,000 the year before the program began).
Over the last year, Bush was responsible for winning approval for a tripling of PEPFAR’s budget, up to $48 billion over an additional five years. The new, expanded program has the potential of providing as many as six million people with retrovirals. Six million – the equivalent of one quarter of all AIDS sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa. Even assuming the money is inefficiently dispersed, this program alone represents the most significant attack upon the AIDS crisis the world has yet seen.