Bush looks to his legacy
As President Bush's administration begins winding down to a much-anticipated close, we're starting to see some attempts at legacy burnishing. This is where presidents on the downslope of their time in office propose a series of ambitious or laudable initiatives that they hope will get them remembered as visionaries and big thinkers.
When a president is as weakened as Bush is, the burnishing takes the form of proposals that he never felt merited serious effort or political capital earlier in his administration, and that will not even be seriously considered until the next administration is in office. It's risk-free, pain-free posturing for the history books.
Thus we are treated to the following:
Trying to get out in front of the global warming debate, Bush has proposed ambitious global talks to get the world's biggest polluters to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions (full text of his speech is here).
Sounds great. Except that the timeline is for the long-term reduction goal merely to be defined by the end of 2008 -- shortly before Bush exits the White House. The proposal has other weaknesses, but that's the biggie: there will be no pain incurred during Bush's watch, and implementation and enforcement will be the responsibility of his successor.
This is somehow supposed to overcome Bush's record on global warming, including the United States' continued rejection of European proposals to actually take action now and impose mandatory emission caps, his ignorance and dismissal of his own EPA's science, moving to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions only after losing a Supreme Court case (and once again, the regulation won't actually begin until the next administration), cutting back on efforts to monitor global warming, and so on.
Next Bush has proposed doubling his program to combat AIDS, from $15 billion over five years to $30 billion. The original $15 billion, you may recall, partly involved shifting around money that had already been budgeted (cutting child-health programs, among other things) as well as a questionable focus on abstinence-only programs and efforts to undermine condom distributions. It was also slow to get going, with most of the spending budgeted (does this sound familiar?) for after the end of Bush's first term. But there was significant new money involved, and the plan did focus attention on the AIDS pandemic.
$30 billion is a real step forward (some quibbling over whether we're already spending that much anyway aside, as well as criticisms that the amount of money designated for HIV treatment is inadequate). But once again the five-year request -- if funded, as expected -- will not take effect until after he leaves office. So his successor will be responsible for coming up with the money to carry out his grand proposal. I think Bush's interest is genuine, but it's also not going to be his problem.
Bush's plan to balance the federal budget bears fruit in 2012 -- if all of his tax cuts are made permanent, optimistic economic growth projections are met, inflation is ignored and social programs are gutted. Then there are the other questionable assumptions, like relying on hefty revenues from the alternative minimum tax and expecting no Iraq war expenditures after 2009. Never mind the more than $2 trillion in debt he rang up -- if the budget isn't balanced in five years he'll shrug and say, "if only they had listened to me." This from the guy who routinely backloads the pain of his proposals, be they new spending or tax cuts.
Bush seeks to avoid any criticism for "losing" Iraq by giving the cleanup job to the next president -- or presidents, given his comparison of Iraq to Korea.
The gears of government can turn slowly, of course, and as 2009 gets closer, more and more Bush actions will see their launch points moved into the post-Bush era. And there's a legitimate use for the bully pulpit as the end draws near, to try to inspire and influence American policy long past 2008. But as the list above demonstrates, some of Bush's recent proposals are either a) pure fantasy, b) revisionist history or c) things that Bush was unwilling to tackle during his own terms.
Look for even grander proposals in the months ahead.
Bush, politics, midtopia