Vox Writer: Bush Was A War Criminal, But He Was Still A Good President
July 11, 2015

Young Vox writer Dylan Matthews wrote something I was sure was link bait. Then I read it, and decided it wasn't bait so much as it was a product of someone who is educated but not experienced.

Matthews wants us all to believe that George W. Bush was a much better President than we're willing to give him credit for. Sure, Bush was a war criminal and such, but still, he was really a good president because he funded PEPFAR, the charity has done much to combat the AIDS virus in Africa.

But Bush was not a bad president, either. PEPFAR is an accomplishment that deserves to stand alongside the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, the Marshall Plan, and Social Security as one of the greatest spending programs the federal government ever enacted.

Just no. One of these things is not like the other. Handing out foreign aid for disease abatement is nothing like passing the Affordable Care Act. Is he trolling us?

The sole logical leg Mr. Matthews stands on is the number of lives lost or saved.

Take the Iraq War, the worst thing Bush did in his presidency, and the one that cost by far the most lives. The most conservative estimates — like Iraq Body Count's, which is drawn from media reports — place Iraqi casualties from the conflict at 100,000 to 250,000, with Iraq Body Count putting the figure at 216,000. Survey-based studies go higher: One estimating 2003 to 2011 excess deaths put the toll at 405,000; a famous2006 Lancet study put the toll to date at 654,965; in early 2008 the British polling firm ORB put it at 1.033 million.

The highest of those estimates are extremely implausible; see this paper by economist Michael Spagat on the Lancet study (which finds evidence that some data was fabricated or falsified), and this one by Spagat and Iraq Body Count's Josh Doughertyon the ORB poll. But supposing for a second they were true, PEPFAR saved an estimated 1.2 million lives in its first four years; it has seen greatly expanded funding since, and saved millions more. The humanitarian toll of Iraq was tremendous, and all the more tragic for being totally preventable. But it was considerably smaller than the humanitarian gains of PEPFAR.

Up front, I'll say that any and all initiatives to do battle with the AIDS virus at home and abroad are welcome humanitarian efforts, and I am certainly not complaining about it. But you have to wonder about an effort supported by Dr. Bill Frist and Jesse Helms. Was it pure humanitarianism, or was it just as much an effort to inject some funding into far-right evangelical groups operating in Africa?

Still, let's give young Mr. Matthews a point in the Bush plus column for recognizing the American contribution to eradicating the AIDS virus. Certainly it was a far sight better than St. Ronnie's penchant for denying the virus existed at all.

How does this compare on any level to the death, injury and destruction Bush wrought upon Iraq and Afghanistan? And that's just the beginning. That's before we get to torture, Guantanamo prison, and Abu Ghraib.

That's before we talk about other things he did, domestic things.

Like how he destroyed the economy by letting the SEC look the other way while Wall Street gamblers robbed us blind.

Like his relentless efforts to privatize Social Security.

Like his failure to deal with immigration when his own party was in power for 3/4ths of his presidency.

Like the way he robbed the middle class while handing the store to the highly-compensated in this country with tax cuts and other sweeteners.

Like handing the United States Supreme Court off to John Roberts for 20 or so years.

We can even stretch all the way back to the time when Mr. Matthews was only nine or ten years old, when George W. Bush was granted the Presidency the good old fashioned way -- by stealing it.

I wouldn't expect Dylan Matthews to remember just how dark those days were, but I do.

There are some things you do not write about if you didn't live them. You don't rewrite George W. Bush's disastrous Presidency if you weren't actually impacted by it. Matthews might be some kind of Boy Wonder, but if he didn't live it, he doesn't get it.

As for PEPFAR, Uganda's Kill the Gay policy comes straight out of the mandates set by the Bush administration. Uganda was a prime target for PEPFAR, which was charged with approaching the AIDS virus with messages of abstinence and homophobia.

So really, don't tell me about how this ONE SINGLE THING Dubya did makes up for all of the horrendous other things he did. It does not. It will not. Good that lives are being saved and treatments are given. Good. Great, even.

But it does not cover the rest. Not by a long shot, and I dare Mr. Matthews to say that to the face of a veteran who has no arms and legs because of that misbegotten war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

If Matthews is allowed to rewrite the Bush years this way without challenge, then it will be time for George W. Bush to finally declare "Mission accomplished."

As far as lives lost or saved goes, perhaps we should mention the American lives Mr. Bush sacrificed for Middle East oil and raw ambition. Or how he denied climate change and probably cost us millions more lives around the globe?

I could go on and on, but perhaps it's enough to tell Mr. Matthews that this liberal knows George W. Bush will rank among the worst Presidents this country has ever had for myriad reasons. One good deed won't cover the rank evil he brought into our government. Not by a long shot.

Shame on Ezra Klein for allowing that trash column to see the public light.

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