Friday, January 16, 2009

A Farewell Address

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 upclear 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.


NecroDancer said...

Legacies are a funny thing. . . you and I will probably not live long enough to truly know what form GWB's legacy will ultimately take. I struggled with out actions in Afghanistan, comparing what had happened on September 11 to those experiences detailed in the Book of Mormon about the Gaddianton Robbers. Although we've found some, killed, captured and continue the good fight, I think it interesting that we're not really any closer to finishing off Al'queda than we were on September 12.

I watched through the past 8 years as the Republican Party and this president relentlessly attacked some conservative values while embracing others to strongly it could be easily faulted.

I agree, there is room to respect this man we called president for eight years. Many will criticize - I've done my fair share. As for Legacy: time will tell. I believe, however, that the story it tells will be one of unrelenting despair and remorse. A story lamenting the many could have beens and lost opportunities.

You were right, though. Had the GWB administration been successful, Mr. Bush would be hailed as a hero more significant than many of our past heroes.

Shane said...

I agree with most of what you have said. I don't love Bush, don't hate him. I think that in time we will see that he is not as bad as most of this country makes him out to be. As you said, he faced a seriously tough time in our nation's history and when dealing with as many critical items as he has had to deal with you certainly are not going to make everyone happy. We also tend to hang everything bad that happens or everything that we disagree with on who was the President of the country at the time. And let's face it, Bush did not create all these messes on his own. There was a bipartisan clusterfunk going on with many of the things we are starting to see come to a head currently. I also personally believe that Cheney may deserve more criticism that he does not receive since Bush is in the foreground.

I admire him for not wavering on his positions and sticking to his convictions despite public disapproval, whether I agree on the specific issue or not.

A simple rundown-

Iraq and the fall of Saddam- a plus. We were screaming for blood as a country after 9/11 and he did what he thought needed to be done to keep us safe. Were mistakes made? Of course. Is there more to do? Yes, especially in Afghanistan.

Big oil and Bush- minus. There's much room for improvement here period. I think we need to explore many other options including drilling here and force the U.S. auto companies to get a grip and restructure to remain competitive.

Gay marriage- I see no need for a Marriage Amendment in the constitution and despite my tendency to lean pretty far right on many issues, I fail to see how allowing two people who love each other, regardless of gender, to marry and make a commitment to each other somehow contributes to the downfall of society.

Stem cell research- he does not, nor do most Republicans, oppose stem cell research. He opposes embryonic stem cell research beyond the original lines already being used for research when the ban was put in place or more specifically creation of an embryo solely for the purpose of destroying it for stem cells. I tend to agree with him on this having gone through IVF twice, my son being the result of the same kind of embryos we are talking about, and my husband and I having donated our stored embryos to a couple that could not otherwise get pregnant, resulting in a son for them. Thankfully, with advances since the ban, embryonic stem cells look to no longer be needed in order to accomplish the same desired outcome.

I will also add as a plus the awareness that Bush has brought to embryo donation/adoption and the Federal Grant he made available for embryo adoption awareness.

So, yes, the country is in a bad way right now and yes, Bush and his administration had a hand in that, but were certainly not alone. There's plenty of blame to go around. I doubt that he will go down as the worst President in the history of the country, even if he does end up being the least liked.

Marty said...

Bush or no Bush, the idealist/ optimist in me resonnated with the part of your blog that is tired of being labeled unpatriotic when I disagree with the elected leadership. I add to that the label "un-Christian." When I somehow failed to add the comment "God Bless America" or failed to pray that "we get those so & so's" with whom we are at war; or when I (heaven forbid!) pray for peace and reconciliation with our enemies, somehow I am against what the US is doing and not supporting my country and/or soldiers.

I am ready for the same kind of loving patriotic disagreement my husband and I model in our home. We disagree on many things politically yet we find a way to talk about this in a fair honest manner, knowing that neither of us will change our opinions. And honestly, I don't want a bunch of like minded people filling this country. How boring, unimaginative, and close-minded would we be? Yet, I'm ready for a country that can disagree with one another, dialog openly and honestly, and still accept that we're all patriotic citizens!

Of course, bland debate doesn't sell media coverage, so I'm cynical to think it will ever happen. But the idealist/optimist in me can still hope.

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