He's the man the world - and nowadays Americans - love to hate. (Americans must have loved him at some stage though to vote him in. Twice.) He sparked a war that is only being concluded a decade after it started. He also exacerbated a culture of ill-discipline and entitlement on Wall Street by following unfettered free market policies, believing that regulation was evil and that the invisible hand would spontaneously fix everything.
Under his watch, America fell into massive debt, fought two wars, and has experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression. Today he is widely parodied and cited as the president with the lowest approval rating ever. This poor bloke is touted as an example of what any subsequent U.S. presidential candidate must not be like. Even the average Republican supporter will concede that George W. Bush mostly made a hash of things.
But there is good that came out of his presidency, as unintentional as it was. Changes for the better on many fundamental levels have taken place...
#1: People don't want war any more
When America invaded Afghanistan in 2002, American citizens wanted retribution for the 9-11 attacks. Images of those planes crashing into the World Trade Centre and of people free-falling from several storeys up were fresh in the minds of the American public. Someone had to pay, and very few people objected to going to war with the Taliban.
Then Bush invaded Iraq based not on actual weapons of mass destruction, but rather on evidence of "programs of weapons of mass destruction." (I remember those words coming out of his mouth like it were yesterday.) People were more skeptical about this Iraq war, but still there were enough on board to approve the "shock and awe" to proceed in Iraq.
Years went by. The wars in both countries took way longer than promised and costed way more than budgeted. Loss of life on all sides has been tragic. Those pesky insurgent snipers in both Iraq and Afghanistan kept taking pot shots at coalition soldiers and there seemed little that could be done to eradicate them. A war against an inferior force was taking forever to conclude.
While America's schools and infrastructure decayed, billions were being poured into this protracted war. What could that money have done if it was used for something other than war? Where Americans initially saw the War on Terror as compulsory, its bloated scope changed their view from compulsory to wasteful. People around the world - using America's example unfortunately - have learnt that war is unnecessary in most cases and usually unaffordable when you factor in that your country needs so many other things. Bush has highlighted the real cost of warfare to everyone. War in the future is going to be less frequent and an absolute last resort as the global public don't just not want it, but in fact detest it.
#2: Americans appreciate the value of life and have greater empathy
Many Americans have a reputation for being globally unaware and disconnected from the rest of the world. America has traditionally been about kicking butt and bombing the bad guys into the stone age. The Soviets, Vietnamese and now the Arabs have all taken turns at being the baddies. America always needs a bad guy and for decades the American public were happy for their military to act as global police. During the early days of Bush the chorus that reverberated was Protect our Women and Children and Support our troops. Bush was there to protect the freedom loving world against the Axis of Evil nations, you know, North Korea, Iraq and Iran. Indeed, that's how he won his second term: by branding himself as the strong one who would protect a paranoid America.
Even during the Gulf War in the early nineties, Iraqi casualties exposed by American media like Time were not such a great concern for the American public. I mean, there wasn't much protest and outrage. Maybe back then people didn't have the outlets presently available to voice themselves, but the voices against war were barely even audible. Nobody would forget that scene of incinerated cars that were trying to flee from Iraq to Kuwait. America bombed a huge gridlocked convoy of Iraqi citizens mingled with some troops. This scene (pictured) was called the Highway of Death. From the aerial view it looked like a swarm of ants had just been burnt by a huge magnifying glass.
This highly questionable operation saw more civilians dying than anything else. Still, the western public at large thought this to be collateral damage and you got the feeling they didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of innocent Iraqi deaths. Would the reaction have been as muted if this happened to a first world western nation? In the nineties the average American was primarily interested in his own. It was very much "us" against "them." Let's be honest: an Iraqi life wasn't considered as valuable as an American life back then.
In the latest invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, it heartened me to see American people finally commenting on blogs and news posts about the pain the other side feels when their army invades another country. Critics grew and became more outspoken. Where previously there seemed to be scant regard for the loss of Iraqi troops and civilians during the Gulf War, Americans now cite the human cost from all sides as a reason not to go to war. That is a subtle but important difference. Americans objecting to war used to typically only cite the needless loss of "our troops" as their reason. Now you see Americans speaking of the "loss of troops and innocent civilians." This means Americans are finally seeing the other side of things. They realise that an Iraqi family wants the exact same things for their kids as an American family does. The epiphany has dawned that these "evil nations" comprise mostly of ordinary people. Through years of war and consequent media coverage, Bush has demystified the bad guys and shown them to be mostly normal people.
#3: We have woken up to the decay and corruption in Wall Street
The economic meltdown and collapse of many companies has led people to ask questions of Wall Street traders, speculators and of course big investment houses like Goldman Sachs. Previously these parties carried on with their business without much interest from the public. We just thought they were really smart, financially savvy guys that knew how to time the markets and make good investment calls. Occasionally a few hippies here and there would protest against them and we would all laugh at them for being communists.
Now Occupy Wall Street has become a massive global protest and people are becoming more skeptical by the day, as documentaries exposing Wall Street and governmental corruption like Inside Job are being released one after the other. Such documentaries weren't around pre-Bush. Suddenly we all care about Wall Street. Yes, Occupy Wall Street sprouted during Obama's tenure, but this movement has come as a result of the corruption and mismanagement that took place mainly during Bush's term. I am by no means trying to paint Obama as a messiah for the middle class; I'm just pointing out that most of the decay happened before Obama came into office.
People were downright peeved for example when AIG used bailout money to pay bonuses to its executives. Livid protests led the House of Representatives to implement a 90% tax on bonuses paid out by companies using $5 billion or more in treasury aid. (Although the AIG executives still walked away with their bonuses, it has to be said.) Activism is stronger than it used to be.
Now, let it be known that George Bush was not the sole cause of the economic crisis, but the fact is he plunged America further into debt while at the same time having no watchdog worth speaking of to keep an eye on Wall Street. Those two seemingly unrelated factors combined under his watch to give the situation America has today. The meltdown could have very well been prevented.
#4: The disproportionately high spending on military has been exposed
Mark my words: Future presidential candidates of the USA will have to promise the public that they will reduce military spending. America spends $700 billion per annum on its army. The USA spends more on military than the next ten largest armies combined. Like the slime on Wall Street is being exposed, so is the excessive spending on military. Another issue exposed during Dubya's tenure was the way congress members and their families benefit when America goes to war. Former Vice President Dick Cheney's wife served on the board of Lockheed Martin. When America goes to war, Lockheed obviously sees a huge spike in orders from the government. George W. Bush's family have oil interests and Iraq has large oil reserves. Coincidence?
#5: The Bush Administration has made people wise(r) to manipulation
Bush and his posse successfully drove Americans into a state of paranoia. They convinced America that countries with fifty year old Soviet tanks were a threat and that war was needed to Protect our Freedom. During the 18 months leading up to the 2004 elections, the Bush Administration came up with a novel concept that gauged the likelihood of a terrorist attack. This gauge used different colours to depict different levels of terror threat. Green signified a low threat, while red depicted a high threat and required citizens to be on high alert. The formal, respectable term given to this terror threat game was the Homeland Security Advisory System.
Surprise surprise, near election time the alert level always oscillated between high and severe. News of thwarted terror attempts in America also intensified closer to elections. People were nervous wrecks and looked at Dubya as the one who would protect them. The government made its people feel that every single person in North America was under threat. Look at the level Guarded above in blue. What exactly does "General risk of terrorist attacks" mean? Also notice that four out of five alert levels imply a threat to your safety.
Now when people look back, they can see how they were manipulated using 9-11, fear, lies, right wing media and rhetoric. The plus side of this is that any government will now find it very difficult to employ such techniques again to justify something like going to war or to get re-elected. Manipulation like planned photo ops and "leaked" recordings still occur, but something on the scale of what Bush and his posse did will be very difficult to pull off again.
#6: George Bush paved the way for a non-white to finally become president
It is of my opinion that George Bush is the main reason Obama got elected. Take nothing away from Obama's thrilling oratory skills and his intellect, but America and indeed every country has its prejudices. South Africa will not vote in a white president for a long time yet, for instance. Don't hold your breath for a non-Muslim to run an Arab state either. In America, the president always had to be Christian, male and white. I don't want to get into why or how, but that's just the way it was.
But after he dragged America face-down through the mud, Americans now wanted someone that wasn't Bush. If this antithesis of Bush happened to be black with a middle name that matches Saddam's surname, then so be it. People had to banish their prejudice and vote in the strongest candidate at the time. The 2008 election wasn't about who you would like to have a beer with; it was about who could ensure there was still money at the ATM when you went to draw out cash for groceries. At the time Obama clearly looked like he was more ready for such challenges compared to John McCain. Obama was also able to paint John McCain as a Bush clone. Hence the first black president.
#7: George Bush helped America to evolve
Following from point 4 above, let's remember one thing: Obama would not have became president if a large contingent of white people did not vote for him. The white male especially is always fingered for being bigoted, prejudiced and racist, but the 2008 election was pie in the face for those who said white people would never vote a black man into power. People of America have become more oblivious to colour. Americans turned a two hundred year old tradition on its head and set the precedent for future elections. No more does a president have to be white, male and possibly even Christian. Elections are now going to be based less on appearances and background, but rather more on credentials and (perceived) leadership abilities.
George W. Bush was an unwitting, unwilling catalyst for change. Americans are now more progressive, questioning and prudent than ever before. The effects of Bush's presidency are still being felt today. But once these after-effects are eventually ironed out, the above seven mindset changes that Bush has brought about will again make America the most ass-kicking nation on earth.