Matt Bai wants you to know that George W. Bush isn’t a monster:
And what do you know: George W. Bush really does care deeply about the men and women he sent to war, and he really did want to do good for the country.
All of us can probably agree that this is true, but I don’t see how that could or should change anything about how we view his presidency. Most of us take for granted that Bush meant well in his own way. That was half the problem with his entire presidency: he governed horribly, but seemed to think that as long as he was pursuing a desirable goal (as he understood it) that the outcome wasn’t particularly important. His trademark combination of aggressiveness, negligence, and certitude produced some of the worst policy failures in at least a generation. Bush wasn’t the “most catastrophic president ever,” but he has a decent claim to be one of the five or six worst presidents of all time. I’m sure all failed presidents would love to be judged according to their intentions and their best personal qualities, but when assessing their record in office these things are not very significant.
Bush presumably did want to “do good” for the country, which is why his disastrous tenure is all the more impressive because he actually did a great deal of harm to it. More than a hundred thousand people are dead today that would almost certainly still be alive because of terrible decisions that he deliberately made. It’s not much consolation to anyone that he cares about the people that he sent to fight an unnecessary war, since it is the terrible decision to send them and not the president’s feelings that matters. He didn’t make these decisions because he was an especially malevolent or horrible person, but because he was a well-meaning and powerful bungler who embraced some extremely simplistic and dangerous ideological views at a time when the public was far too willing to defer to his leadership.