President George W. Bush’s best moment was his confident, capable, and aggressive response to the 9/11 attacks. It was the worst attack suffered by the United States since Pearl Harbor, and it came as just as great a surprise. Bush did not hesitate. He immediately implemented the steps necessary to find those who had carried out what FDR would have described as “this dastardly attack.” And he remained steadfast even under brutal criticism of some of those actions.
His exemplary conduct was epitomized by his visit to New York, where he made clear the uncompromising resolve of the U.S. and its people to punish those responsible.
His worst moments arose from his unwillingness to confront the members of his own party when they sent him bloated budget after bloated budget, starting us down the road to fiscal ruin. Yes, Barack Obama has vastly accelerated the speed at which we careen down that road. But President Bush’s refusal to exercise the veto pen was a detriment to the otherwise bright record of his presidency.
— Hans von Spakovsky was a Justice Department official during the Bush administration.
President George W. Bush’s finest moment was when we became, through no choosing of his own, a war president. Americans may think that presidents always rise to the occasion of war, but that is not always true. Consider James Buchanan, who, as I describe in my 2010 book, Crisis and Command, responded to secession by claiming the president had no constitutional powers to stop it and asking Congress to solve the problem. President Bush defied the expectations of those who thought him a spoiled rich kid with no foreign-policy experience and charted out the fundamental policies against Islamic-extremist terrorism — in the face of much criticism and insult from the academic and media elites — that succeeded in keeping the country safe to this day. He will be remembered in much the same way as Truman, who established the strategy of containment against the Soviet Union.
Perhaps President Bush’s worst moments were in his management of Congress and his response to the financial crisis. When it came to domestic affairs, President Bush had a strong interventionist streak and did little to restrain overspending by Congress, the growth of the administrative state, and ever-new mandates. This was put on display in his response to the financial crisis, which set the stage for the Obama administration’s mismanagement of the economy by calling for large-scale intervention in the markets, the nationalization of companies, and the government takeover of financial institutions. It is still an open question whether any of these tactics worked, but they certainly did much to launch the federal government to yet a new plane of intervention in the private markets and civil society from which it shows little sign of retreating.
— John Yoo is a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley.