Some thoughts on Dubya

I'll get back to the abortion/sanctity of human life discussion I started a couple days ago shortly. But first, I want to offer some thoughts on the Bush presidency as it enters its final days. And how appropriate -- without knowing it I started drafting this post on the very day president Bush gave his farewell speech.

My conclusion after reflecting on eight years of George Bush in the White House is that a lot of positive came out of his administration, and the world is better for his two terms. I know that puts me in the minority as of right now, but I suspect that the current hostility toward Bush will cool, perhaps with the passing of the current generation, and that looking back many of his positives will be more evident than they appear to many today who have grown so accustomed to reviling the man on sight.

In fact, president Clinton said something in the waning days of his administration that I think applies to Bush as well. I'll paraphrase Clinton since I don't have the direct quote, but the effect of it was 'I'm not nearly as bad as my worst detractors have portrayed me, nor am I nearly as good as my staunchest supporters have claimed.' Considering that the scuttlebutt on Clinton ran the gamut from "He's the Antichrist!" to "he's the best president this nation ever will have!" I thought it a well-grounded way for him to look at all the talk. Which brings me to Bush: man, I thought the anti-Clinton jargon was heated (and it was) but I've never seen anything quite like the irrational, spiteful vitriol that has been hurled against W. All presidents have political enemies, but the Bush hatred seems to have blinded many people, especially in print and television news, to much of the good that Bush used his office to accomplish. I'll mention just a couple of the things that are most significant to me.

First, Bush's entire presidency was marked by a dedication to human dignity and human rights. And I'm not only referring to his opposition to abortion, but also to things like his standing firm against the current irrational mania to pursue embryonic stem cell research when non-embryonic stem cell research offers much more promise and has produced more real results (that's the subject of a whole post unto itself). Bush also listened to a bipartisan coalition of activists who were working against human trafficking (a safe, sterilized way to say sex slavery) and passed some of the most robust legislation against that evil to date. He also became extensively involved in pressuring the government of Sudan (where I have traveled 4 times) to stop its genocidal war on civilians in the south of that nation, helping broker a ceasefire that remains tenuously in place to this day. And when Darfur erupted later and Khartoum sought to weasel out of responsibility for it, Bush sent his top diplomat (Secretary of State Powell) to the region, signaling the seriousness with which the USA was taking human rights in a nation in which we had no large security interest. On the home front his faith-based initiatives were intended to partner with groups that make a real difference in the lives of prisoners, the poor, and the outcasts of our country rather than merely opening the bureaucratic checkbook and calling it compassion. But he did open the checkbook for good causes too, typically in the aid of the forgotten, such as helping cure thousands of Africans from malaria (a curable disease that still kills millions each year, usually amongst the poor) and treating AIDS on the continent. Sadly, most of these efforts got little press.

The common theme behind all these efforts is a simple and yet profound one which resonates deeply with me personally: that strength exists for the defense of the weak. Not for their exploitation, as happens in so many nations. I believe that honors God's intentions in creating strength. The president of the United States, while far from omnipotent, is probably the single strongest person in the world in terms of influence, and I think Dubya understood that and sought to use his position for purposes that went beyond himself and petty partisanship.

And then there's the War on Terror... I don't want this to get too long but one can't comment on the Bush presidency and leave out perhaps its most identifiable facet. I'm mixed on this: on the one hand there's the glaring absence of WMDs in Iraq (though this exposed gaping holes in the intelligence networks of all NATO nations as much as it reflects on the Bush administration, despite what the vitriolic Bush bashers screamed) and there's 4,000 dead American soldiers which is never a good thing. Yet the War On Terror is bigger than just Iraq, and while I have mixed feelings about our involvement in that nation I also recall that in 7 1/2 years since 9/11 Al-Qaeda's ability to sow chaos and death has been severely curtailed through the military, diplomatic, law enforcement, and financial coalition of nations Bush put together. Many terrorist attacks in Europe have been discovered and thwarted before they happened, and significantly not a single attack has taken place on American soil since - a fact that no one even dared to dream might be possible in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, when we felt so vulnerable to terrorism. Though Bush must bear responsibility for the failures and missteps particularly in Iraq, surely he deserves credit for what has gone right.

To be sure he has had his major blunders. Underestimating the aftermath of toppling Saddam Hussein is certainly one. And on the home front, I have nearly pulled my own hair out more than once as I've watched him spend more government money than many "big-spender Democrat" presidents ever did. This was another miscalculation on his part: I think he sought to take issues away from his political opponents by championing their own causes, but in the end he only earned the ire of his own supporters by doing so. Still, many today seem all too happy to blame Bush for other people's misdeeds; an example being the current economic crisis, which in reality began long before Bush was in office (and when, incidentally, the White House and Congress were both controlled by his political opponents). I realize that getting blamed for everything bad and credited for everything good comes with the Oval Office territory. But that dynamic also explains why I'm still part of the 30% or so of people who have an overall favorable view of George W Bush's presidency: he's been too easy a target for the angst of a nation.

And I'm not alone. A very well-written reflection on Dubya can be found here, and another one here. I recommend reading both of these short articles, regardless of your opinion of the Bush presidency. Even if they don't change your mind, they at least provide food for thought.

So as the prez makes way for his successor and prepares to glide into the Texas sunset, I bid him an appreciative farewell, remaining mindful of my disappointments with him, yet convinced that history will remember him better than his contemporaries do.


An unashamed member of the 30% (or whatever we're down to nowadays...)


Ken said...


I agree with you that history's view of President Bush the 43rd will mellow some. He won't be thought of as evil as his loudest critics and as great as his most vocal admirers. A great deal of his "legacy" (quotes because I feel it's an over-used word) will be determined by the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan. If both end up as stable, democratic regimes then his "legacy" will improve greatly. If they do not, he'll have to take the hit.

I also do not think that he is a bad man. I believe he was well-intentioned, but as I'll elaborate further, spent much of his first term being managed by subordinates.

I fall squarely into the group that does not approve of his performance (I know - a shocker). He squandered a huge opportunity to unite the country following 9/11. However, his lack of interest in details led him to blindly trust his Vice President and advisory team of placing politics above policy. He oversaw one of the largest expansions of executive power and lack of regard for the Constitution and the rule of law. Again these are things that history may take lightly, like Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus.

The incoming administration has their work cut out for them. I, for one, do not envy their position. There is a great deal of damage to undo and their challenges are great. I wish them all the best.

Matt Guerino said...

Thanks for your comments Ken - very thoughtful and well stated!

One thought on the "managed by subordinates" idea: there may well be some validity to that criticism, as that aspect of executive leadership is one of the most challenging. Bush put a lot of driven, competent, intelligent people around him, and encouraged them to debate vigorously. That's a positive in my view, and a good early mark in his administration.

But I think 9/11 changed things for good. It galvanized him and brought national security/War on Terror to the forefront of his mind, where it remains to this day. He still views "keeping Americans safe" as the #1 job of the president, and the galvanization of this conviction appears to have made some of the voices in his administration (e.g. Powell) lose traction. 9/11 was not the only unprecedented thing - so was a war on non-state entities. Entrenched, bureaucratic intelligence systems, inter-agency bickering, and large conventional military structures all of a sudden had to be overhauled - an indescribably monumental task. Bush took it all on - to his credit - and promptly discovered how monumental a task it all was.

All of which is not to disagree with your point - actually I think you're leveling a fair criticism. But I believe it's this larger backdrop against which Bush made some of his miscalculations that will blunt (though not remove) history's judgment of his presidency.

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