Bush gives strong defense of his Presidency to WSJ

President Bush was interviewed byteh Wall Street Journal recently where he gave a commanding defense of his adminsitration. We feature some of the highlights, but if you want the whole text go here and become a WSJ subscriber.

No Child Left Behind, which he says was not only an “education reform” but a “civil rights measure”; a costly Medicare prescription-drug program, which also created health-savings accounts and put “people in charge of their own health-care decisions”; his faith-based initiative, which he says was not about making the state a “religious recruiter” but about creating a government mentality that says “if it works, fund it”; his tax cut, which he credits in part for “52 months of uninterrupted job growth.” He also is proud of “fighting off protectionism and promoting trade,” and his success at getting Trade Promotion Authority back in 2002.

Mr. Bush had many big plans that never came to fruition, from school vouchers to radical health-care reform. He considers Social Security and immigration the “two big issues that were unfinished.” His immigration plan infuriated his base, which viewed it as amnesty. He remains unrepentant. “Immigration was a very tough issue, and I knew it would be tough because it’s a very emotional issue . . . On the other hand, the system was broken, falling apart, and people’s lives were being affected in a way that was really not worthy of our country…”

He also won’t agree that Social Security reform was a casualty of the Iraq war. “Social Security did not pass because legislative bodies tend to be risk-averse, and restructuring, reforming Social Security requires a certain amount of risk. And the idea of asking members of Congress to deal with a problem that is not imminent is difficult.” He contents himself with having “laid out some solutions” and hoping a future president will take courage from the fact he campaigned on it twice, “proving it was not the third or fourth or fifth rail of American politics…”

The action that will always most define the Bush presidency will be the invasion of Iraq. It is also the decision he remains most visibly passionate about, especially given it was the cornerstone of his broader “freedom agenda” in the Middle East. That agenda, he says, is working, and he remains confident that while it “was widely criticized by some as being hopelessly naïve and idealistic, is really the only practical way to provide long-term security . . .” He is convinced the region is stepping into a new era, and will continue on that path “unless America loses nerve in our belief in the universality of freedom.”

The president suggests his program that has provided antiretroviral drugs to 2.2 million African HIV-AIDS victims is also partly aimed at national security. Freedom includes “freedom from disease, because [terrorists] can exploit hopelessness, and that’s the only thing they can exploit.”…

He also counts as an accomplishment his protection of the homeland, in particular that he is “leaving behind tools that future presidents will be able to use — and even though they were controversial when they were implemented, people are going to get in that Oval Office and say, now I understand why this tool is important.”

He dismisses criticisms (some from this page) that his second-term foreign policy has been a shadow of his first — that it has placed too high a premium on a diplomatic multilateralism that has allowed Iran to inch closer to a bomb and North Korea to play the world community. “A credible foreign policy is one in which you initially establish your credibility, establish your principles by which you would govern and stand strongly by them, so that over time, the people will begin to say — in the world — say, well, we can’t change him, let’s join him and try to solve problems.”

Mr. Bush lists as an example the Palestinian issue, in which he refused “to deal with Arafat,” but in which “the world came in many ways to recognize that policy made some sense” and “therefore the two-state solution led by a Palestinian Authority that recognized Israel has now come to be.”

I ask the president how the Republican Party has changed these past eight years. What are the opportunities it has missed, or where has it grown?

Organizationally, he says the “Bush era for the Republican Party” will be remembered for its breakthrough work in 2000 and 2004 in “how to organize at the grass roots,” the “micro-targeting, and a very intense focus on getting out votes” that Barack Obama built on this year with the Internet. Substantively, he acknowledges it is difficult to “assess where [the party] has grown after a defeat” like the one it just received. He wishes he could say that one change “was the capacity to get Hispanic votes” — as he did in 2004 — but this election saw a Latino defection to Democrats.

Yet he remains a believer in the cyclicality of politics, and his own stamp on the party. He says a younger generation will “take our philosophy, which is right of center — compassionate conservatism is how I describe it — and win.” He doesn’t believe change requires an ideological shift, but rather “new faces, new voices, fresh energy” that take “the same basic philosophy — lower taxes, strong national defense, a belief in a responsibility era.”…