A Dismal Legacy

If conversations at my office and family gatherings are any indication, Americans are intensely focused on the upcoming presidential election. Traditional print and broadcast media and internet blogs alike are filled with arguments over the respective merits of the candidates, and detailed analyses of who is voting for whom and why.

Whatever their other differences, voters clearly can’t wait to be rid of George W. Bush. However, before we rush to bid a not-so-fond farewell to the Bush Administration, it may be instructive to examine the legacy of the past seven years.

Bush took office in 2001. During the previous eight years, Gross Domestic Product had grown an average of 4.09%  annually. Over the past seven years, GDP growth has averaged 2.65% per year.

The national debt was $5.7 trillion in 2001. It is $9.2 trillion now. Over the three years preceding 2001, the government had actually managed to amass a $431 billion surplus; during these last three years, we’ve had a $734 billion deficit.

The Clinton Administration created an average of 1.76 million private sector jobs each year during its eight years in office;  the Bush Administration has averaged 369,000 per year.

In 2001, there were 31.6 million Americans living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, the Bureau reports there are 36.5 million.

When Bush took office, there were 38 million Americans without health insurance; today there are an estimated 47 million, and the average annual family health insurance premium has increased from $6,230 to $12,106.

Median household income was $49,163 in 2001; it is $48,023 today. Meanwhile, gas prices have increased from 1.39 a gallon to 3.07, and the cost of college tuition has gone from $3,164 to $5,192. Consumer debt has nearly doubled, from $7.65 trillion to $12.8 trillion.

When we turn from domestic matters to international ones, we see an equally dismal landscape: our trade deficit has soared from $380 billion to $759 billion, and the value of the dollar has declined precipitously. In 2001, a dollar would buy you 1.07 Euros; today, it will get you .68. We are more dependent on foreign oil. Our armed forces are stretched dangerously thin. And don’t even ask about our international reputation: a recent Pew poll of ten nations charted dramatic declines in the percentage of people in those countries holding a favorable view of America.

What these statistics from government agencies—the Treasury Department, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the like—can’t and don’t take into account is the damage done to America’s governing institutions by this Administration’s unremitting assaults on the rule of law. How does an accountant quantify cynicism? How do we measure distrust, or value lost accountability?

It is hard to imagine that anyone running for President in 2008, on either ticket, could do a worse job. But whoever wins will face daunting challenges.  The next President must restore fiscal sanity, address our multiple problems, repair our international reputation, and—most important of all—make us believe in America again.