George W. Bush's Legacy: Moral Vision

The Wall Street Journal's latest poll reports a 27 percent approval rating for President George W. Bush in his last week in office. According to the article, this is "the lowest for any departing chief executive except Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign amid the Watergate scandal." Gallup's final survey on Bush's public backing is just slightly better, with 34 percent of Americans approving of "the overall job George W. Bush is doing as president."

It's an iron law of politics that these end-of-term numbers will provide confirmation for those bloggers, pundits, and scholars determined to condemn the Bush administration as the worst in American history.

For average Americans, it's most likely that folks are simply tired of long and costly wars, fearful of economic uncertainty, and hopeful for vigorous leadership in the new Democratic era. Yet for partisans of the hardline left -- those implacably opposed to the GOP administration and its ideology -- the reasons for joy in the final poll numbers are many: the alleged "stolen" election of 2000; the post-9/11 terrorist "fearmongering" and the "shredding" of constitutional guarantees on civil liberties; the "illegal" war in Iraq, based on "false pretenses" of Iraqi WMD, and evil "neocon" designs for neo-imperial domination of the Middle East; and the "reign of torture" that has allegedly destroyed America's moral standing around the world.

Amid all of this, it's naturally difficult to discern a triumphant legacy for the Bush administration, especially with the immediacy and euphoria surrounding the Democratic transition in Washington. But the truth is that the George W. Bush presidency will likely be seen in time as one of the greatest in American history, on par with the what historians call the "near-great" category of presidencies such as Theodore Roosevelt's or Harry Truman's.

President Bush is a leader of uncommon moral vision and clarity of national purpose.

On September 20th, 2001, speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, the president articulated his vision of America's purpose in combating the evil of Islamist fanaticism: "The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us." It has been this unflinching belief in America's mission of defending universal right and justice in the world that has animated the Bush administration's agenda in the post-9/11 world.

In his 2002 commencement speech to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Bush declared that "Our nation's cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human liberty." In his second inaugural address, Bush announced: "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. ... We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul."