The end of the year is a good time to assess George W. Bush, the man and the presidency. In January 2006, he will have been President for five years, with three remaining. (How depressing that thought must be to Democrats -- three more years!)
Right up front I will admit that I don’t respond well to him on a personal level. Rush Limbaugh likes to say Americans love Bush. I don’t. I’m more like a liberal in this respect. He is not the drooling moron of leftist smears, but he is a small-minded man with no intellectual curiosity. Worse, he has contempt for intellectuals and ideas. He once said to someone, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you President?” This is like something a sixth-grader would say -- a stupid sixth grader. To hear it from the POTUS is kind of scary.
He is a country club Republican, a man born into privilege who sought power because it was handed to him on a silver platter. Movement conservatives spend their youth reading books and getting fired up by ideas. They join the movement to change the world. Bush spent his youth getting wasted. He became a politician because his father was George Herbert Walker Bush.
He believes he doesn’t need high-falutin’ ideas to make the right decisions. He goes by his gut. This has led him to the worst aspects of his presidency, the growth in government and spending. It seems he has relied too much on his pragmatist political advisor, Karl Rove, who is not above spending money to buy favor with a voting bloc. So Bush has done stupid things like let Senator Kennedy write an education bill in hopes that parents of school children would vote for him in ’04.
Bush’s gut and his contempt for conservative ideas led him to nominate Miers to SCOTUS. Only a revolt among the Republican base made this notoriously stubborn man back away from the nomination.
This is just a suspicion, but I think Bush relies on his father more than the public knows. They probably don’t advertise this because they want Bush to be perceived as his own man. Bush the elder has one of the most distinguished resumes in America --WWII pilot hero, Congressman, RNC Chairman, CIA Director, Vice President, President, and doubtless I’ve missed an achievement or two. You think the son is not consulting daily with this man?
The influence of the father cannot be good. Bush the elder was a pure pragmatist who as President could say one thing in the morning, then say the opposite in the afternoon. He is incapable of thinking in principles. He’s the man who called supply-side economics, which has fueled 25 years of a mostly growing economy, “voodoo economics.” I will not be surprised if it eventually comes out that Bush’s weakest moments were the result of listening to his father’s advice.
Why did Bush apologize for those famous 16 words in the SOTU speech about British intelligence reporting that Saddam sought uranium in Niger? The statement was true then and it stands true to this day. However, it was a slap in the face of the CIA. Could the former Director of the CIA, the President’s father, have had something to do with Bush's gesture of appeasing the CIA bureaucracy? My fears about the father's influence are speculation; take it for what it’s worth.
Finally, Bush is a Christian -- a serious, committed Christian who called Jesus Christ his favorite political philosopher. I believe his Christian humility led him to attempt a “new tone” of civility with the Democrats in Washington, D.C. All he has gotten in return is greater contempt from them. His respect for religion led him to evade naming the enemy, militant Islam, for years after September 11, 2001.
Worst of all, he has started “faith-based initiatives,” integrating religion with the welfare state. This just makes the religious right more invested in welfare handouts -- a liberal dream! (As a side note, it can’t be good for religion. When you bring the church into the state, you bring the state into the church.)
The Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff said that FDR was to the welfare state what Bush is to the religious state. He is an innovator, a founder, the start of something radical and new. For this reason Peikoff voted for Kerry in 2004, as liberalism is a spent force and all we will get from Democrats is more of the same. Dr. Peikoff might be right. I would like to see a little more evidence that Bush’s religious programs are changing America. Perhaps Dr. Peikoff is wiser in trying to stop those changes before they come about and our freedom is curtailed.
So much for the negative. What positive things can we say about the man?
Bush is shrewder than people realize, even now, after five years as President. He loves to play dumb and make people “misunderestimate” him. I don’t know how many times the Democrats thought they had Bush on the ropes, then Bush rope-a-doped his way to a political victory.
Bush is lucky in his enemies here. If he is shrewder than he looks, the Democrats are stupider than they look. Since day one of Bush’s first administration they have been obsessed with catching Bush in scandal. The details get lost as time passes, but Democrats thought Enron and Halliburton would lead to scandals they could hang around Bush’s neck. Much of 2005 has been wasted in scandal-mongering among the liberal media -- Plame and now this NSA flap.
The Democrat obsession with scandal results from their inability to think about ideas. When is the last time you heard a big, bright new idea from the Democrats? Part of it is also a reaction to the Clinton presidency. For eight long years the Republicans had Clinton mired in countless scandals. His presidency was so hobbled that he could do little more than agree with the Republicans on budget cuts and suggest modest programs such as uniforms for school children. The Democrats blame the evil Republicans for this, but Clinton gave them the scandals to work with.
Bush is far more honest than Clinton. The Democrats refuse to admit this truth, so they wage one futile scandal campaign after another. The waste of time and energy among liberals in Washington, D.C. is one of the great untold stories of the Bush presidency.
Bush’s response to September 11, 2001 is a mixed bag. He worried too much about world opinion and the UN before attacking Iraq. He started the Department of Homeland Security, which as Dr. John Lewis pointed out, is an admission that we’re going to live with terrorism in the long run instead of aggressively wiping out terrorist states. He is still trying to appease our greatest enemy, the fount of Islamic terrorism, Iran. But he took out the Taliban and Saddam and decimated Al Qaida. This is better than Gore would have done.
As recently as 2004, Kerry was still saying that terrorism should be a matter of law enforcement, not war; this is the mentality that ruled every president from Carter to Clinton -- including Reagan and Bush 41. This thinking got us in the mess we are in today. Bush has rejected this idea. He understands we are in a war. For this alone, we should be glad he is President. Unfortunately, he is not prosecuting the war thoroughly or well. In the long run, this might lead to greater disasters, as the appeasement at Munich led to WWII.
Bush has shown moments of great leadership. He named Iraq, Iran and North Korea “the axis of evil.” This is precisely the kind of clarity we have not gotten from our leaders since, I don’t know, JFK? Before that? Bush said if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Absolutely! These statements of moral purpose are what the liberals hate most about Bush -- further evidence that they cannot be trusted with national security.
Bush has had mixed success in choosing the people around him, but he has chosen wisely in Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Powell is now just a bad memory. Despite all the liberal propaganda, I give Bush high marks in choosing his help.
Bush’s non-intellectual character has a good aspect. He has the soul of the American common man, and that is a very good soul indeed. He has elements of the American sense of life, our heritage of individualism from the 18th and 19th centuries that made this country great. Liberals will shriek in laughter at this, but there have been moments when Bush reminded me of Gary Cooper in High Noon. He is forthright and determined that justice will be done in our war against militant Islam.
Here is the best thing I can say about Bush. He is the most ambitious president since Harry S. Truman. Truman, for all of his faults, had the task of getting Germany and Japan rolling on our side. It worked. Look at them now, pillars of global capitalism. Bush is trying to bring freedom to the middle east. Some people think it is a pipe dream. I think it might work.
The colonialism of the 19th century was bad because the native peoples were not free. But it had good aspects in that it brought western values to primitive cultures and provided security. Their economies grew, despite the west “exploiting their resources.” Perhaps Bush is bringing a kind of benevolent colonialism to Iraq. The people are left free and their resources are not exploited, but their security is guaranteed by the US.
Is this a legitimate use of military lives and taxpayer dollars? Can freedom be brought to a culture that has never known it? It worked in Asia, but is Islam beyond hope? These issues remain open. One thing is for sure: the neoconservative project of bringing freedom to the middle east is more ambitious than uniforms for school children.