Bush Legacy: Partisan Politics

Winning by a hair, claiming mandate; legislative paralysis after early success.

ByABC News
January 2, 2009, 3:46 PM

Jan.8, 2009 -- He squeaked into office by the narrowest of margins -- a Texas governor from outside the Washington orbit who promised a new brand of politics to heal a divided nation.

Yet George W. Bush never governed like a president who harbored uncertainties or self-doubt about his capacity to lead. He never lost the brash style that won him early successes and united the nation after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

He would fall back on his resolve in his administration's final days, as he turned his attention to his legacy.

But President Bush leaves office a diminished figure, shunned by his own weakened party while the nation faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad.

In an ironic twist, the partisan vitriol he endeavored to end finally shows signs of abating -- under the leadership of a successor who ran as an antidote to the Bush years.

Bush forged ahead with an ambitious agenda in Washington -- deep tax cuts, vast changes in federal social programs, expansions of executive power and a broad remaking of energy and education policies.

Claiming a mandate by simply declaring its existence, his early successes mystified his critics. With guru Karl Rove directing the action, Bush won a stunning series of political victories.

He muscled a sometimes contradictory agenda -- big tax cuts, as well as the largest Medicare expansion since the program's inception -- through a Congress that was more than willing to follow his lead.

Sept. 11, 2001, reordered the nation's priorities, and President Bush was there to reap the political bounty: He gained seats for his party in the 2002 midterm elections, with national security issues prominent in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Even when that war proved unpopular and costly, he achieved his biggest political triumph -- a convincing reelection win, and more seats in Congress for his party, in 2004.

The "permanent" Republican majority he and Rove envisioned seemed attainable as Bush plunged himself into his most ambitious legislative effort yet: a partial privatization of Social Security.