He was certainly more socially liberal than some critics give him credit for. No Child Left Behind, whatever its faults and funding, was a centralised attempt to raise educational standards across the board.
A new prescription drug benefit scheme may have been expensive (though Bush himself argues its cost has been exaggerated) but its aim was to make medicines more affordable for the elderly.
Bush failed in his most ambitious social reform of immigration law, but he was defeated primarily by the Right of his party, not the Democrats.
The Obama administration may blame Bush for the crippled economy it inherited, but it has for the most part been unable to rescind his tax cuts and indeed believes in extending them for all but the richest. For the time being, the tax argument has been won by conservatives. Liberals may have berated Bush for the security policies of his “war on terror”, but they have been continued and in some regards expanded by President Obama.
Writing in the Washington Post recently, Jennifer Rubin argued that “Bush seems to be a more accomplished Republican figure in the Obama era”, while summarising his successes.
Bush himself has told the Dallas Morning News, in an exclusive interview, that he still stands for the “compassionate conservatism” that he ran on in 2000.
“I’m comfortable with what I did,” he said. “I’m comfortable with who I am.”
On the debit side, the list remains heavy. His tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq produced budget deficits, which were compounded by a recession and economic stimulus spending. Bush inherited a $5.7 trillion debt, which became a $10.6 trillion debt, and bequeathed his successor an economy on the verge of collapse.
Obama duly expanded health care and stimulus spending, endured a second recession, deepening the debt still further.
As Factcheck.org points out, both presidents are to blame for taking the debt to record levels. Indeed in Washington they both occupy the broad middle ground, where most presidents find themselves.