George W. Bush is free to work on his legacy now, and if he "grows" in office he can expect a lot of help from his enemies. He can return to Prairie Chapel Ranch with his approval rating in the high 50s (and with a lot of inexpensive illegal aliens to keep the swimming pool clean).
Immigration, in fact, is the key to building his legacy. Improving a presidential legacy is a fool's errand, however, since history makes its own judgments, taking no help from manipulators.
Harry Truman, who has become the favorite of Everyman, was no fool. Mr. Truman was immensely unpopular with the fickle masses and might have left Washington astride a rail if he and Miss Bess had not slipped out of town in their old Plymouth first for the drive back to Missouri. Those were simpler days, of course, and presidents left office without the usual advisers, security teams, consultants for the presidential library and other skilled con men. When someone asked Mr. Truman some time later what he had done on arriving back in Independence, he replied: "I took the suitcases up to the attic." An avid reader of history, he was content with letting history not historians, but actual history make its judgment of his stewardship of the greatest gift Americans can bestow. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nevertheless, George W., who is not necessarily an avid reader of history, will be tempted to try to mold a legacy of his own making. The war in Iraq is the first obstacle to raising the opinion of the worthies of the mainstream media, the authors of "the first draft of history." Media worthies take their myth-making very, very seriously, rarely taking into account that the first draft is nearly always ultimately recognized as wrong.
To leave town with "honor" as the myth-makers define it is every president's aim. George W. made a down payment on a "good" legacy with his sacking of Donald Rumsfeld. But that's only the beginning. He has to find a way to cut and run from Iraq to satisfy the myth-makers. His old enemies would be willing to call "cut and run" something else, and probably most Americans would be satisfied with leaving the Iraqis to settle their theological arguments with guns, beheading knives, slingshots, pike poles, stones and clubs through whatever rituals of the religion of peace the mullahs dictate.
The president moved into his new groove yesterday, meeting Felipe Calderon, the president-elect of Mexico, to assure him that now he can get the amnesty for the 12 million illegals among us. This was good news for Mr. Calderon, who knows that an amnesty for 12 million will open the way for millions more, assuring the endless waves of easily exploited and easily abused cheap labor coveted by many American employers.
Mr. Calderon arrived in Washington with more than a little chutzpah. He said after his Oval Office meeting that he told Mr. Bush that Mexico is not happy about the fence soon to be built on American turf: "I explained to him our concern and our opinion that it was the wrong measure that would not resolve the problem." Mexico has threatened to take its complaint to the United Nations, and Mr. Calderon did not say whether Mr. Bush used his opportunity to tell the Mexican government that the U.N. has no standing in this dispute, and should butt out. Mr. Bush, who has said some tough things in the past about the importance of respecting American sovereignty, surely told Mr. Calderon where to get off. In a nice way, of course.
But we shouldn't count on it. Mr. Bush seemed more concerned about not hurting Mexican feelings. "I assured the president-elect that the words I said ... about a comprehensive immigration vision are words I still believe strongly," he said afterward. Mr. Bush is still hot for his "guest-worker program," which is White House code for "amnesty." Harry Reid, who will soon be the leader of the Democratic majority, is hot for amnesty, too. "Democrats look forward to working with Republicans to achieve real border security through bipartisan, tough, fair and practical immigration reform."
The White House sees the illegals as an endless supply of cheap labor, the Democrats as an endless supply of reliable Democratic voters. It's win-win for the president searching for a legacy. Getting an amnesty will be proof that he's finally capable of "growing" in office, and that makes possible the legacy his enemies can be proud of.