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Eric Chen

Professor Nacos,

It turns out the vilification of President Bush was an illusion to trick the electorate. It worked to get Democrats elected, but the blame-Bush narrative harmed America's causes, including the liberal world order, and obstructed the serious discussions the American people have needed to understand our place in a changing competitive world.

As far as disappointment with Obama Year One, the vilification of Bush unrealistically raised expectations for President Obama because Bush normally made reasonable decisions under the circumstances. In order to fulfill the anti-Bush expectations from the presidential campaign, President Obama would be forced to act unreasonably within largely the same circumstances faced by President Bush. Therefore, by continuing many of Bush's policy goals, Obama acted reasonably as President but also disappointed many of his supporters.

Bush's presidential record stands out because it is surprisingly unremarkable given the vitriol directed against him. Notwithstanding the inherently controversial nature of the War on Terror, President Bush did not push a polarizing agenda and consistently did what he was supposed and expected to do as the chief executive, no less and (unfortunately at times) no more. Bush's legacy really only features one exceptional leadership decision: the double-down course correction in Iraq with the radically different, widely unpopular, controversial-within-the-military, population-centric counterinsurgency 'Surge'. Within the War on Terror, the initial decision to give the Taliban government an ultimatum and then invade Afghanistan after the escalation of Islamic terrorism during the 1990s and the 9/11 attacks was a no-brainer. Bush's decision to enforce the final ultimatum against Saddam was not nearly as extraordinary as portrayed, either, since Clinton had already declared Saddam failed his "last chance" and reached the presidential conclusion that regime change was the only solution for the Iraq problem by 1998. Although within the context of the War on Terror, the Iraq decision was important because it definitively marked the progressive liberal nature of the war and peace-building strategy now shared by Obama for Iraq and the wider War on Terror.

Blaming Obama for the economy problem isn't fair, but to place blame on Bush is also misleading. From what I gather, in terms of government responsibility, the finance crisis was enabled by both Democrat and Republican law-makers dating back to policies enacted during the Clinton administration. The warning signs should have been obvious, but no politician was going to commit political suicide and incur the world's wrath by pre-emptively bursting the bubble for the 'engine' of the world economy. After all, even if the money was illusory, it was bonafide by the authorities and everyone was sharing the bounty. Whereas, the end was going to be an ugly, hard fall no matter what. Bush responded with bail-outs in the early stages of the collapse, too, so the type of Obama's response to the crisis isn't a dramatic departure from his predecessor. I understand the upset against Obama on this issue, but I don't know of any substantially better government-based solutions. Nor do I believe decreasing government regulation and free-form creative destruction of our economy is the answer. There's an easy analogy to be drawn here between the leadership challenges of Iraq and the finance crisis: it was left up to Bush to solve the Iraq and wider War on Terror problem that grew under his two predecessors with inadequate tools, and it was left up to Obama to solve the finance problem that grew under his two predecessors (although Obama had the benefit of Bush dealing with the early stages of the collapse), again with inadequate tools. Also similar, without the respective crises impelling presidential action, I don't believe Bush would have changed the pre-9/11 status quo in Iraq and Obama would not have broached finance reform.

The Democrats' push on health care and cap-and-trade reform are fairer sources of criticism. I don't dispute that we need a more affordable and accessible system of health care, and I personally want universal healthcare for American citizens. But though the majority of Americans can agree there should be health care reform, the popular impression is that Democrats are not engaging the nation to deliberate the range of health care reform options, but instead are pushing through a mammoth comprehensive ideology-based law. The voter message to Democrat law-makers isn't that health care reform is wrong; the message is they need to stop and start over by engaging the full spectrum in authoring the reforms. With cap-and-trade, Americans are leery about restricting the economy at this time for environmental reasons that many people also perceive to be more ideological than practical.

Finally, despite his campaign promises to the contrary, the conduct of the Obama administration and Democratic majority has been politics as usual. Obama, as it turns out, is not quite a wunderkind, and he didn't transcend his lack of experience. Disappointing, most of all for Obama's true believers, but not unexpected for the rest of us. As far as Obama himself in his 1st year as President, I think Obama sincerely is doing his best to be a conscientious American president, no less than his predecessor. Appearance-wise, Obama seems to be aging as rapidly as Bush did; he's learning and his 2nd year should be better.

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