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Ambition and Division

Legacies of the George W. Bush Presidency

Edited by Steven E. Schier

Publication Year: 2009

The presidency of George W. Bush is notable for the grand scale of its ambitions, the controversy that these ambitions generated, and the risks he regularly courted in the spheres of politics, economics, and foreign policy. Bush's ultimate goal was indeed ambitious: the completion of the conservative “regime change” first heralded by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. But ironically this effort sewed the very discord that ultimately took root and emerged to frustrate Bush's plans, and may even have begun to unravel aspects of the Reagan revolution he sought to institutionalize. Politically, the Bush White House sought the entrenchment of consistent Republican electoral majorities. Institutionally, the Bush administration sought to preserve control of Congress by maintaining reliable partisan Republican majorities, and to influence the federal courts with a steady stream of conservative judicial appointees. The administration also sought increased autonomy over the executive branch by the aggressive use of executive orders and bureaucratic reorganizations in response to 9/11. Many of these efforts were at least partially successful. But ultimately the fate of the Bush presidency was tied to its greatest single gamble, the Iraq War. The flawed prosecution of that conflict, combined with other White House management failures and finally a slumping economy, left Bush and the Republican Party deeply unpopular and the victim of strong electoral reversals in 2006 and the election victory of Barack Obama in 2008. The American public had turned against the Bush agenda in great part because of the negative outcomes resulting from the administration's pursuit of that agenda. This book assembles prominent presidential scholars to measure the trajectory of Bush's aspirations, his accomplishments, and his failures. By examining presidential leadership, popular politics and policymaking in this context, the contributors begin the work of understanding the unique historical legacy of the Bush presidency.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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1. Introduction: The Ambitions of the George W. Bush Presidency

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pp. 1-15

The peculiar circumstances surrounding the election of George W. Bush to the presidency in no way prepared Americans for the remarkable twists and turns of policy and politics that characterized his eight years in office. Elected with no public mandate whatever, Bush achieved surprising legislative success in his early months in the...

Part I. History, Legitimacy, and Leadership

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2. The Bush Presidency in Historical Context: The Limitations of the Partisan Presidency

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pp. 19-39

George W. Bush's presidency was contentious from the moment that his election as president was confirmed by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. The court's decision meant that Bush joined the list of three other U.S. presidents who owed their election to a victory in the Electoral College while finishing second in the national...

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3. Legitimacy, Leadership, and Longing for Realignment: The Party Basis of the Bush Presidency

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pp. 40-61

What started rocky, ended rocky. Elected under controversial circumstances, George W. Bush entered office with a legitimacy crisis on his hands. A significant proportion of the American public viewed Bush as a dubious president, in part because he was outpolled in popular votes by the losing candidate and in part because his road to the...

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4. Bush and Clinton: Contrasting Styles of Popular Leadership

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pp. 62-71

At the time of that volume's publication in 2004, and for at least a year afterward, much American political and academic commentary viewed Bush through the prism of his outsized ambitions. Bush and his team—most notably Vice President Dick Cheney and chief strategist Karl Rove—signaled early in the administration that they were not motivated...

Part II. Popular Politics

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5. A Public Death: The Failure of the Bush Presidency and the Future of American Politics

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pp. 75-86

In 2004 we wrote the following words concerning the relationship between the American public and George W. Bush: "Ever since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush has ranked among the most popular of American presidents. Americans admire his strong leadership, especially in the tension-filled days following the...

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6. Bush and Religious Politics

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pp. 87-109

Few of George W. Bush's Yale fraternity brothers would have predicted his rise to the presidency, despite his distinguished political heritage. Even fewer would have expected his administration to be the "most resolutely 'faith-based' in modern times" (Fineman 2003). In fact, the first "insider" book on Bush's tenure in office opened with a...

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7. The Culminating Point: Democrats versus Republicans in the Bush Years

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pp. 110-128

On the afternoon of November 2, 2004, Democrats thought that vindication was in their grasp. Two years earlier, the terrorism issue allowed President George W. Bush's party to pull off the remarkable feat of gaining seats in a midterm election. And for a while in 2003, it had seemed as if the military defeat of Saddam Hussein would ensure...

Part III. Washington Governance

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8. Shifting Sands: President Bush and Congress

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pp. 131-150

President George W. Bush had a mercurial relationship with the legislative branch. At times, the president seemed to be getting what he wanted out of Congress. On May 31, 2003, he stated, "I'm proud of the United States Congress. The Congress is focused on results, and they have delivered tremendous results for the American...

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9. Authority and Unilateralism in the Bush Presidency

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pp. 151-171

George W. Bush's leadership in the White House presents a paradox between power and authority in the modern presidency. Bush pursued notably unilateral governance, evaded checks and balances, and finessed the Democratic opposition. From the beginning of his presidency, he seized executive power as if he had won an electoral landslide...

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10. Richard Cheney and the Power of the Modern Vice Presidency

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pp. 172-189

"Meteoric" is not the word that springs to mind when thinking of Richard B. Cheney. Nouns such as "gravity," "seriousness," and "prudence" may, along with such adjectives as "opaque," "subdued," "laconic," "taciturn," and "unflappable" (Hayes 2007, 260; Suskind 2004, 44, 46; Mann 2004, 97, 111). But "meteoric," with its connotations of...

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11. Low Risk and Big Ambition: Bush and the Judiciary

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pp. 190-211

Surprisingly, perhaps, for a president first elected with little excess political capital, George W. Bush made his appointments to the federal judiciary a high priority and spared no political expense to secure his patently conservative nominees' confirmation. His first-term clashes with the Senate, and the controversy over the Senate Republicans' spring...

Part IV. Economic and Foreign Policy

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12. Riding the Tiger: Bush and the Economy

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pp. 215-239

If peace and prosperity are the twin pillars of presidential popularity (Kernell 1978), then there is little wonder that the presidency of George W. Bush concluded with widespread dissatisfaction with his performance as president. Not only were his years in office marked by a long war with uncertain prospects for success, but his presidency was also...

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13. The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration: Terrorism and the Promotion of Democracy

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pp. 240-266

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush announced that he would pursue a "distinctly American internationalism" in foreign policy (Bush 1999a), largely in contrast to the liberal internationalism of the Clinton administration. He initially sought to have a foreign policy that placed greater emphasis on American national...

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14. National Security and the Bush Doctrine: A Legacy of the George W. Bush Presidency

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pp. 267-283

Foreign policy provides the most likely source of an enduring legacy for George W. Bush's presidency. That may seem less than obvious in the immediate aftermath of his time in the White House, but it is not unusual for a president's historical reputation to change with the perspective allowed by distance. At the end of a presidency, analysts, pundits..

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15. Conclusion: Bush's Legacy and the Limits of Ambition

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pp. 285-293

The preceding chapters have revealed the George W. Bush presidency as unusual in the wide scope of its ambitions. The Bush administration's redefinition of foreign policy, spurred by 9/11, led to an audacious doctrine of preempting likely terrorist threats overseas and prosecution of an initially successful war with Iraq in 2003. Domestically, the...

Works Cited

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pp. 295-324


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pp. 325-327


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pp. 329-342

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822973652
E-ISBN-10: 0822973650
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960492
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960494

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2009