By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 01/25/2009
There is a segment of our population that considers itself superior in intellect, tolerance, and compassion. Yet they almost universally display a regrettable characteristic when confronted with an ideologically contrary view. Their actions, words, and dispositions become antithetical to their avowed values.
That fact is made clear by the intellectually dishonest, intolerant, and mean-spirited fashion by which they treated our former president. By all accounts, those who know George W. Bush or have worked with him have nearly unanimously expressed appreciation for how respectful, genuine, and likable he is. Unlike most who lust for leadership, he is uncharacteristically not full of himself, doesn’t take himself too seriously, is not egocentric, and doesn’t minimize others to advance himself. In short, he is a good, honest, and decent man by firsthand accounts, which is a far cry from what is said by those who don’t know him.
During his eight years as president, he faced more calamities, crises, and major decisions than most, and made intensely difficult decisions with regularity. There is no evidence from eight years of service that he did anything for his own aggrandizement. Contrary to empty claims to the contrary, there is no empirical evidence Iraq was about oil for his “oil buddies” or Haliburton. He wasn’t peddling text books tuned in to the No Child Left Behind Act. For all intents and purposes, it appears he made all decisions based on what he felt was right for the country.
I remember listening to an interview of then Secretary of Education, Rod Paige during the first term. Paige, a Democrat in a Republican administration, was asked what it was like to serve with President Bush. Paige replied, “You don’t know what a thrill it is to work with someone of his caliber who makes all of his decisions based on principle rather than political expediency.”
Freedom and liberty were central themes and values to Bush, both domestically and globally. They were evidenced in economic policy, foreign policy, and his social orientation. The two areas of criticism most frequently hurled his direction that to a superficial mind might seem in opposition to those principles were regarding abortion and anti-terrorism tactics. But even in those areas, higher principles governed, for protection and preservation of life trumps the freedom to kill the unborn, and the primary constitutional requirement of the government to protect our nation trumps individual freedom from monitoring while calling terrorists in foreign lands and funneling money to terrorist groups.
Many criticize or object to Bush’s decisions, but there is ample evidence that Paige’s perception is an objective one. The animus, abject hatred, and vilification of the man especially by those claiming to be so tolerant and compassionate is beyond my comprehension. I have always thought as people matured, they could make the distinction between disagreeing and being disagreeable; that they could honestly express opposition to an opinion or policy, and yet not be hateful and demeaning to those with whom they disagree. Obviously, that level of maturity is not attainable by many in our society, including virtually all of the mainstream media, the Hollywood effete, those who are too ideological or intellectually lazy and rely on only mainstream media accounts to shape their opinion of him, and much of academia which seems to bask in the unwarranted air of superiority created by maligning the 43rd president of the United States.
Bush actually is much more similar to Lincoln in terms of leadership characteristics, ideology, and conviction to values and principles than our new president. Lincoln’s famous comments from his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…” fit Bush to a tee. He even refused to refute or lash out at his critics, and instead seemed to simply “turn the other cheek” in response to their denigration.
A few years ago, a couple of scholars wrote a book about the leadership genius of George W. Bush. Those experts identified the traits that made of him a great leader, even though the traits were not universally recognized. They identified his trustworthiness, his persistence in hiring the good people and scrupulously not micro-managing them, his approach to forthrightness and honesty, and his practice of always holding other people accountable.
In spite of his penchant for making up words (which Mark Twain once said was totally acceptable), and his southern drawl, there is little evidence that the man is as vapid as his critics have charged. You don’t graduate from Yale or Harvard Business School, even by Bush’s own account as an “average student,” unless you have intelligence. Perhaps the ultimate compliment came from one of his most ardent critics, Chuck Shumer, Democrat Senator from New York, who after a losing another in a series of senate votes was overheard to say of Bush, “How does he always beat us like that?” For all his presumed incompetence, he was remarkably successful in getting his way with those who thought they were the sharpest tacks in Washington. No wonder he was so “misunderestimated.”
While there were many policy issues I objected to over his eight years as president, I will always be grateful for his steady and reasoned hand at the helm of state in some of the most challenging times for our republic. And I can only hope that we will mature as a citizenry to the point where we can disagree with our elected officials without reviling and belittling them. Can we get to that point? I say, “Yes we can!”