Anyone who knows me more than superficially knows that I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of our wounded waterfowl head of state, Mr. George W. Bush. I tend to hang, er, lean left, so that’s naturally where some of the animosity comes from: I just plain disagree with many of his policies.
But as I watched his farewell address last night, I realized there were actually things for which he’s to be admired, though, the ability to become a better public speaker OVER EIGHT YEARS inexplicably isn’t one of them.
It’s not that I’m softening on him in the face of overwhelming public disapproval—like any good American, I’m all for the underdog, the castoff, as Mr. Bush has become. I just decided, as he was trying to shape his legacy with one final (very poorly written) speech, to try, as a citizen of our country, to try to fairly assess his performance without any talking heads trying to spin my perceptions.
So what about George W. Bush should I, John Q. Public, as opposed to Joe T. Plumber, remember as worthwhile?
Well, if you remember, there was this little thing in September of 2001. Scared the sheeee-it out of all of us. And whilst you might not agree with some of the subsequent intelligence-gathering and loss of liberties for the sake of security, you know what? It hasn’t happened again. In fact, he cited that as his greatest accomplishment during his address. So he can certainly take some well-deserved credit for that.
And in the wake of 9/11, he created the Department of Homeland Security, which helped reform how all the intelligence gathering agencies shared information. The creation of DHS also funneled a great deal of much-needed money into local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, for both equipment and the standardizing of training and cross-jurisdictional protocols. Granted, some of that needed to be tweaked after Apocalypse Katrina, but that was an event the scale of which had never been seen before.
Further, he caught and killed Saddam Hussein, who was doing his best to rival Adolf Hitler in the commission of atrocities.
I, personally, can also thank Mr. Bush for putting money in my pocket a couple times. If you’ll remember, there was a tax rebate check a few years ago for a few hundred bucks, and then there was the much-ballyhooed “economic stimulus checks” which everybody got last year. Mine came to more than two thousand dollars. Sure, you can argue that his policies led to taking money out of my pocket in the first place (in the form of higher gasoline prices) and that the stimulus checks did absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy, but, hey, a couple thousand bucks is a couple thousand bucks.
On the negative side of the ledger, however, I believe his biggest crime has NOT been the invasion of and subsequent war in Iraq. What I think has been most deplorable is that his energy and environmental policies have been dictated by Big Oil—which one could argue has directly led the American auto industry to the precipice of doom. It remains to be seen whether the Bush Administration’s failure to acknowledge—and in some cases, cover up—clear evidence of global climate change (by not encouraging alternative fuels, hybrid technologies, and pushing for tougher emission and mileage standards so that the oil companies—which CLEAR $1,300 a SECOND—could continue to produce the gasoline required to run unnecessary SUV’s and massive pickup trucks) means the death knell for the Big Three. We will find out sooner rather than later.
To continue the debits, America’s image around the world has taken a hit; when he speaks extemporaneously he makes Bobcat Goldthwait sound like Dr. King; he’s opposed stem cell research and gay marriage, which, whether you agree with them or not, are the right and fair things to support, respectively; he’s led a conservative movement which has brought a new phraseology into our lexicon (red state/blue state), denoting how we now view and, in some cases, despise each other; and perhaps worst of all, his spin machine has painted as unpatriotic anyone who disagrees with him.
So what is his legacy? At the end of the day, Mr. Bush presided over some of the most uniquely challenging times in our nation’s history. He faced an attack on American soil, the impact of which was akin, in both loss of life and emotional impact, to Pearl Harbor. He faced a natural disaster that far exceeded even the worst-case projections. He’s been dealing with the possible collapse of the nation’s auto industry and near-collapse of the banking and real estate industries, which is fueling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
I guess, when you add it all up, because we don’t yet know whether we’ll be attacked again, whether the economy will recover, how Iraq will turn out or how we’ll handle another epic natural disaster, his legacy will have to temporarily lie elsewhere. History will ultimately have to determine how George W. Bush is remembered and viewed, and that isn’t going to happen on January 21, 2009 by the rah-rahs at FOX News or the bile-spitters at MSNBC.
But for now, for me, his legacy rests this way, as he stated in his address: he followed his conscience. He consulted with his trusted advisors, he made his plans, and he followed through on what he thought was right. And there’s a lot to be said for that, in my book. He didn’t waffle in the face of overwhelming public criticism. He didn’t quit. He attacked it with his “bring ‘em on” cowboy American bravado. Now just imagine if everything had turned out perfectly. He’d be leaving office more beloved than Reagan. He’d be admired for that attitude which people have since called brash, inflexible, arrogant and naïve. I’ve criticized him on a lot of things, but I have always admired his ability to stick to his guns on what he thought was right.
We shall see if the history and textbooks—if the ancient printed medium still exists—my grandchildren will read end up agreeing.