Bush would leave legacy he never imagined

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The unvarnished review of George W. Bush's presidency reveals a portrait of America he never would have imagined.

Bush came into office promising limited government and humble foreign policy; he exits with his imprint on startling free-market intervention and nation-building wars.

Grading Bush's performance has its limitations. History offers a warning about judging a president and his tenure in the moment: The wisdom and decisions of a leader can look different years later, shaped by events impossible to know now. Leaders are entrusted to act in the nation's long-term interests.

But it was one of Bush's heroes, Ronald Reagan, who crystallized the way modern presidents are judged: Are people better off than they were when the president took office?

The president's defenders say his decisions will be viewed honorably over time. For now, he is out of time and realistic about his exit. He said, "this isn't one of the presidencies where you ride off into the sunset."

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