A Tale of Two Presidents

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From my point of view, George W. Bush made some serious mistakes during his presidency.  At the same time, there are some things to be said for him.  In general, I think Bush was more respectful of institutions than President Obama.  Or, to put it the opposite way, there is a selfish recklessness in Obama that Bush did not display, to his credit.  This can be seen, I believe, by comparing their presidencies at the point now reached by Obama’s: the second term midterm elections.  There are similarities and differences.

The similarities: By this point, both presidents had low approval ratings.  The low ratings probably arose from the fact that the major policy initiative of both had turned out to be unpopular, and that both were perceived as responding ineffectively to crisis.  Bush’s major policy initiative was the Iraq war, and by 2006 people were tired of it.  And they thought he had not risen to the occasion in response to Hurricane Katrina.  Similarly, Obama’s major policy initiative, the Affordable Care Act, is very unpopular; and many voters are dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of the current border crisis.

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As a result of these conditions, both presidents faced midterm elections in which their parties were likely to do very poorly.  That is what happened to Bush, and that is what seems about to happen to Obama.

Those are the similarities.

The difference: In response to his party’s impending losses, President Bush did not cook up a radical use of the executive power–or really a culpable refusal to execute the laws–on the eve of the elections in order to stir up his base, risking throwing the country into present political chaos, and embittering our politics for years to come, as a kind of Hail-Mary-Pass play effort to change the correlation of forces in the elections.  But that is what Obama is talking about doing with the immigration non-enforcement policy he is talking about implementing.

Bush would have regarded such action as a dangerous abuse of the office of the presidency, and he would be right.  Someday, when the partisan passions have cooled, impartial historians will count this in his favor.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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