A perrenial favorite of Newsvine discussion is some variant of the "What good or evil has Bush committed?" question. For example there is this thread and this thread and many others. It seems to me that no one is asking the right question, which is: Would American policy be much different if Bush had not been the President these last six years?
Consider some common criticisms of the Bush Administration:
The PATRIOT Act -- Passed with broad bi-partisan support and given the anti-terror legislation pushed by Clinton after Oklahoma City, it is fairly reasonable to assume that this legislation would have been passed post-9/11 regardless of who held the Presidency.
No Child Left Behind -- This act was also passed with widespread support from both parties. The only "conservative" provisions in the original version (a voucher plan) were scrapped. It is unlikely that federal education policy would be much different under a Democratic administration.
Tax Cuts -- The tax cuts were extremely small and backloaded to the latter part of the 10-year budgeting period. Their impact on the economy (and federal revenues) is so-far negligible regardless of whether you think tax cuts are good or bad for the economy.
Prescription Drug Benefit -- This was hotly debated during the 2000 campaign and likely would have occurred during a Gore Presidency as well. Either way, this costly expansion of an already fiscally unsound entitlement program would still have ballooned the deficit. It may perhaps have been better implemented, but the primary effect -- significant deficit increases -- would have been the same.
Deficit Spending in General -- The high budget deficits of the 2000s are composed of several components. Military spending might have been lower under a Gore administration as well as slightly higher tax revenues if you get rid of the tax cuts. But the main item that is increasing deficits are entitilement programs (which are indexed to inflation). It is difficult to conceive of a Gore or Kerry administration where entitlement spending was significantly different. If anything, we might expect it to be higher.
Katrina -- The problems in response to Hurricane Katrina are only attributable to Bush to the degree that one considers FEMA to be responsible. Even if you attribute a high degree of blame to FEMA, New Orleans would still have flooded under a Kerry Presidency. The primary impact here was due to mother nature.
Sarbanes-Oxley -- As with the PATRIOT Act, this accounting reform bill had broad support stemming from public outrage at corporate scandals like the Enron bankruptcy. The huge costs of compliance with this "reform" is crippling American companies -- but is it attributable to Bush? Nope, just one more bad policy with bi-partisan support.
As you can see, most of the major criticisms of the Bush Presidency are really just good criticisms of American government in general. The Iraq War is perhaps the only Bush policy that might have been avoided under a Gore presidency (it would have been much the same under Kerry).
Bush's second term has seen declining poll numbers and some on the left think this is because America is shifting away from conservative policies. However, given that most of the Bush policy agenda would have passed even under a Democratic administration one has to wonder whether that is really true. It seems more likely that Bush has lost popularity because he is dissappointing to conservatives.
Social Security reform is dead. His Supreme Court nominees have replaced older conservatives with newer conservatives (and he almost failed to do even that much). Immigration policy is the same as it was under Clinton. On almost all fronts, the Bush administration is just a continuation of earlier policies.
One has to ask, would America have been much different at all under Democrats these last 6 years? Is there anything that really would have been different?