With only two months remaining in the eight-year tenure of George W. Bush's service in the White House, historians are already gathering material to write about his legacy. The president's aides claim he is serene, confident that he will get a better shake in the history books despite his dismal standing in the polls as he leaves office.
He is wrong.
Bush arrived in the capital in 2001, vowing to run the government as a "compassionate conservative."
And he said he would unify, not divide, the country and Washington. He based his claim on his record as governor of Texas. But unifying is a job far easier in Austin than in Washington.
The compassion did not last long. Bush moved quickly to the right on taxes, the environment, and energy, to name a few key issues. He reached across the aisle on education on his No Child Left Behind but wound up leaving it with insufficient money. Compromising with Democrats was not his way of operating with Congress.
His going to war in Iraq before the job was finished in Afghanistan led to a huge divide in the country. It still exists today, and he leaves a huge mess in the region.
Further, Bush allowed himself to stand by as a spectator while Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies tore up any restraints on the executive branch. In their excellent books, Barton Gellman in Angler and Jane Mayer in Dark Side, the two authors showed a brazen Cheney taking over such issues as intelligence and torture. Bush's primary role was to affix his signature.
Cheney et al. were helped by a Justice Department headed by Bush's pal from Texas, Alberto Gonzales, who will go down in history as one of our worst attorneys general. Even young conservative lawyers in the administration were shocked by how Bush allowed himself to be manipulated by the secretive vice president.
Although Bush lost the popular vote and was elected only by a controversial ballot count in Florida, Cheney scoffed at the suggestion that the new administration did not have a mandate.
Today, some Republicans have the gall to deny Obama has a mandate, although he was elected by a sizable margin in both the popular and electoral counts.
In the presidential campaign, Bush and Cheney were shunned by GOP candidates from sea to shining sea. Some even avoided the word Republican in their advertising lest they be branded with the president and his wrecking crew.
On November 4, President-elect Barack Obama won easily, in large part because Sen. John McCain had the Bush record around his neck. The GOP nominee tried to separate himself on some issues, but few listened.
The president is talking about writing his memoirs when he returns to Dallas and the ranch at Crawford. Some publisher will doubtless offer big bucks. I will not read it because it will surely be a narrative blatantly full of spin.
It is going to take some time to undo the damage the president and his vice president have done to our nation.
Michael Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter and now an op-ed writer in the Washington Post, said after the GOP shellacking last week that his former boss was a man of decency. Bush's father, the nation's 41st president, was a man of real decency.
His son came up short.