John Derbyshire's petulant insult of President Bush: "now I wouldn't let the fool park his car in my driveway" is an injustice to a leader who has accomplished what no one thought probable back on 9/12/01 -- keeping the USA safe from further jihadi terrorist attacks. He did so by maintaining an iron backbone even when various of his natural allies in national security turned against him.
It is disingenuous or self-deceiving to act shocked at Bush's Big Government Republicanism, when the “Compassionate” part of W’s “Compassionate Conservatism” was always the trade-off we accepted in order to field a winning candidate, but prior to recent bailouts and quasi-nationalizations, it was not generally G.W. who drove spending escalation (notable exceptions include Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, No Child Left Behind -- both were campaign promises, not surprises to Conservatives – and AIDS spending in Africa), rather the GOP House and Senate -- which actually ran on reducing the size and scope of government -- became addicted to pork and Bush never stood up to them. If anything damaged the Republican Party it was the porkification of the GOP Congress. Bush deserves blame, but only a 1/274th share (i.e. 218 GOP Reps + 55 GOP Senators + 1 President = 274).
Additionally, Bush made three big mistakes in the War on Terrorism, probably a record low for any Commander in Chief in a lengthy war. Mistake 1) too slow to change strategy and generals in Iraq – but he did change it and victory is now in sight. 2) played the U.N. dawdling game, permitting Saddam and Co. to plan and prep for insurgency. 3) grossly underestimated America’s most implacable and vindictive enemy – no not Al Qaeda you goof, LIBERALS. Bush naively believed all of that hand-holding-on-the-Capitol-steps-God-Bless-America routine, when in fact the American Left was merely laying low in the interests of self-preservation, awaiting the turn of events that would make it politically safe to resume their default setting of Blame America First.
There is something in that list to make each element of the Conservative coalition angry, but I think what really set off certain Realpolitik Conservatives (Peggy Noonan, George Will and WFB Jr. come to mind) against G.W. was his Second Inaugural Address, in which he asserted that the key to American Security is the replacement of tyrannies with democracies. This sounded to them too little like J. William Fulbright and too much like Wilson, Roosevelt and JFK, with a whiff of Jimmy Carter for good measure; but in a sense I believe those Conservative Cold Warriors are guilty of failing to apply the lessons of WWII and the Cold War to today’s circumstances. You know how the joke goes, “Grandpa, which war did you fight in?” No matter what war it was, Granpa answers, “The Big One.” Well, to a certain generation of Conservatives the Cold War was “The Big One.” Their blind spot is that in this fallen world there will always be another “Big One,” and when The Big One of this generation appeared George W. Bush got it right and stuck with it.
George W. Bush concluded from the 9/11 attacks that facing extra-national enemies with global reach, suicidal fanaticism, and access to technologies of mass killing, America is not only no longer protected by the Oceans, but we are no longer protected by conventional military detterence; therefore, the lynchpin of our security is to use American power to remove those governments who threaten to facilitate terrorist attacks against America, replacing them with governments empowered by the consent of the governed, who even if not aligned with the U.S. will be restrained from adventurism by democratic accountability. Bush was not so much guilty of overestimating the capabilities of the American military as he was of overestimating the perserverance of the American body politic.
(If History still exists after an Obama Presidency, then) History will be much more generous to President Bush than many Conservatives have been so far. As for me, I will remember G.W. for his supply-side and family-friendly tax cuts, his excellent judicial appointments, signing the ban on Partial Birth Abortion, deploying an inchoate national missile defense, and fighting the right war at the right time in the right place. Regarding the latter, and notwithstanding my distaste for Republican Big Government and disappointment about Republican electoral decline, I’m inclined to be generous now to the President who did his job well enough to make my worst nightmares about terrorism in America merely nighmares.