My liberal friends will likely write me off totally and put me in the category of being a complete moron – the same one in which they put the subject of this piece. Frankly, my conservative friends may do the same thing. So be it; call me the village idiot.
But I come to defend 43, President George W Bush, the most reviled man in partisan circles next to Dick Cheney when it comes to the White House.
Truth be told, by 2005 even I had lost faith in his vision; not as a result of tepid successes in Iraq or Afghanistan but because he seemed to have lost his way fiscally. He received precious little help from his milquetoast Republican colleagues that ran Capitol Hill. In spite of all that and as events unfold in early 2011, allow a BasicMan Perspective to offer a few reasons to reconsider W’s overall body of work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The 24 hour news cycle remains stuck on the same template of newsworthy issues; debt, deficits, and the health of the US economy, entitlement reform, tensions on the Middle East, the global war on terror, and finally, the lack of civility with which we conduct ourselves in dealing with all the aforementioned topics. If one is willing to examine the record of Bush 43 it becomes apparent that he factors into each of these areas in ways that may surprise.
Civility – Pleading for public civility in 2011 isn’t some new societal wish that needs to be aired in Arizona, Wisconsin, and DC. Among the long list of topics Bush could have stressed in his 2001 Inaugural address; he opted for civility, courage, compassion and character. The concept of civility in Washington had taken a turn for the worse following the contentious conclusion to the 2000 post election debacle in Florida. His words in 2001 were prescient in terms of where we find ourselves today. The old hats scorned him as a naive Texas rube that needed to grow thicker skin if he wanted to survive on their playground. Regrettably, they were right. He grew the skin because they only paid lip service to these words.
“America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness. Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because, in a time of peace, the stakes of our debates appear small. But the stakes for America are never small. ….. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. This commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.” (George W. Bush, 2001 Inaugural Speech)
Entitlements - More and more Americans are awakening to the fact that our ever-growing list of social entitlements has become the achilles heel of our present and future fiscal health. Many would love to pin our financial woes solely on the Department of Defense, but that constitutionally mandated expenditure is chump change compared to our present and future obligations for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (see chart).
We are quick to forget that in 2005, George Bush attempted in vain to kick start an entitlement reform initiative when he proposed that Congress deal effectively with the looming insolvency of Social Security. The Republican Congress kicked the can down the road as he was rebuffed and scoffed at by AARP, partisans, and other special interests even though the handwriting was on the wall. They didn’t have the socio-political stomach to think so big and revolutionary a thought. Apparently that same handwriting has become easier to read just six years later. The story wasn’t good then and it’s worse now.
Terrorism - When certain circles speak in post 911 context about US foreign policy, radical Islam, Iraq and Afghanistan there’s always an underlying snarkiness rooted in undiscovered WMD and the unilateral component of the Bush Doctrine. These underpin their criticisms of the legal maneuvering and military strategies essential to fighting an enemy of this nature; the hiding, un-uniformed, undocumented terrorist from no specific country. The left growled when Bush called out the Axis of Evil, they howled at how this conflict was prosecuted from day one and roared even louder when they learned some really ugly facts about wars are fought and won. They hated Bush for rendition, the Patriot Act, and doubling down on a military solution in Iraq by employing the Petraeus surge. What really galvanized opponents were Guantanamo Bay and the ‘rights’ of unlawful combatants. Somehow we’ve either become comfortable with these ‘Bush-isms’ in 2011 or have come to understand that in life there are necessary evils no matter who occupies the White House. All of them are still in place and part of our war effort going forward in spite of how despicable they appeared to be when 43 exercised them.
Freedom - In 2004 as the Iraq War plodded along, George Bush introduced his vision of exporting freedom, self determination, and democracy to more of the Middle East in a speech he delivered to the United Nations.
“For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. Oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.
This prompted opposition snickering; most notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). But there was no snickering among citizens living under repressive rule in some Middle Eastern and North African countries. Instead they listened and watched to see how things played out in that ‘lost cause’ called Iraq. Bush’s words struck a chord.
While we sat and watched the Iranian Green Revolution being brutally thwarted in 2009, it quietly strengthened the resolve and whet the appetite for freedom in other oppressed countries within the region. In January 2011, Bush’s vision, now fortified with newly minted freedoms and democratic success in Iraq, thus fertilized democratic revolutions in no less than 7 countries. Some will succeed, some will fail but these words were never more true.
…..The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way.”
In 2011 we find ourselves forced to deal with even more issues that were opened and addressed on the Resolute Desk during the Bush years but dismissed once they left the Oval Office. They were either politically too hot to handle or because they came from a president and a party that had successfully become marginalized by the opposition. Revisionist history cannot dismiss however the administration’s 17 documented trips to Congress from 2001 to 2006 to urge greater regulation of Fannie and Freddie, or the gaping holes in the Kyoto Protocol as it pertained to US involvement, American jobs and the economy.
The defense rests.