Former President George W. Bush has never been one to criticize another president, either predecessor or successor, but he is in the news today for making some worthy remarks about bigotry that some believe were specifically targeted toward the current president.
Whether they are or not is pretty much besides the point. What he said is true, and it matters:
“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said in his remarks. A spokesman for Bush denied that the former president was criticizing Trump in Thursday’s speech. “This was a long-planned speech on liberty and democracy as a part of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative,” Freddy Ford told The Hill. “The themes President Bush spoke about today are really the same themes he has spoken about for the last two decades.”
And this is true. George W. Bush has always been a voice against prejudice and his cabinet was the most inclusive in the history of the presidency, although that was seldom noted. He has consistently been a voice for inclusion, and I never understood the people who — either because they were too busy echoing narratives to think for themselves, or they simply enjoyed an exercise of malice — would charge call him “nazi” or “bigot” or “moron.”
He was never any of those things, although people seemed to preen when they used the words.
I have long defended President Bush because I always believed, and still do, that he is an innately good man, and a courageous one, too, and also for the simple reason that so few would defend him. I think it’s easier join a chorus of critics than to posit an opinion of one’s own and risk being included in the name-calling and derision.
It’s quite “safe” to join in on a hatefest — and feel good about yourself, to boot — when imagining you are bravely speaking “truth to power”, but that’s actually a coward’s move, as we have seen just recently in the Harvey Weinstein story. While he was at his most powerful, no one would dare criticize the movie mogul or lay bare the “open secret” of his depredations; no one would speak “truth to power” and risk their careers until it was safe to do so.
So, yes, I’ve always defended Bush and will continue. I frankly believe the man is owed many, many apologies from people in politics, in punditry and even among the citizenry that finds its entertainment and energy in social media.
You hated him for “lying” us into a godforsaken war? That has never made sense; a president moves on the intelligence he/she has and people forget that people like John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton all concurred that the intel Bush was moving on was the same intel they’d seen earlier; they forget that from 1998 US policy toward Iraq was “regime change.”
So, if he didn’t lie us into war, it was still a mistake, for many reasons? I agree. But I think it was a mistake made with the best of intentions — the intent to promote human freedom. I’ve never forgotten the faces of the women in Iraq who voted and raise their purple-inked fingers to heaven with excitement and pride. And yes, for all its mistake, experts agree that the surge “worked.” Perhaps too little too late, though.
For that matter, let’s not forget how President Bush urged congress to commit billions to Africa for the relief of AIDS which was a scourge upon the continent, and more for malaria prevention. I will never forget how, towards the end of his presidency, the African peoples greeted him ecstatically, quite aware of what he’d done, while in the US, his visit was barely covered. I’m a newshound and I recall being shocked to know he was still there, because the coverage was not. With the exception of rock musicians Bob Geldof and Bono, no one seems to have noticed that effort. The Bush Center is still deeply committed to Africa.
And as to the troops who served and died on his watch, well…just read this, by his former press secretary, Dana Perino, and keep a tissue handy when you do:
Everyone stood silently while the military aide in a low and steady voice presented the [Purple Heart]. At the end of it, the Marine’s little boy tugged on the president’s jacket and asked, “What’s a Purple Heart?” The president got down on one knee and pulled the little boy closer to him. He said, “It’s an award for your dad, because he is very brave and courageous, and because he loves his country so much. And I hope you know how much he loves you and your mom too.” As he hugged the boy, there was a commotion from the medical staff as they moved toward the bed. The Marine had just opened his eyes. I could see him from where I stood. The CNO held the medical team back and said, “Hold on, guys. I think he wants the president.” The president jumped up and rushed over to the side of the bed. He cupped the Marine’s face in his hands. They locked eyes, and after a couple of moments the president, without breaking eye contact, said to the military aide, “Read it again.” So we stood silently as the military aide presented the Marine with the medal for a second time. The president had tears dripping from his eyes onto the Marine’s face. As the presentation ended, the president rested his forehead on the Marine’s for a moment. Now everyone was crying, and for so many reasons: the sacrifice, the pain and suffering, the love of country, the belief in the mission and the witnessing of a relationship between a soldier and his commander in chief that the rest of us could never fully grasp. […] And that was just the first patient we saw. …But there were exceptions. One mom and dad of a dying soldier from the Caribbean were devastated, the mom beside herself with grief. She yelled at the president, wanting to know why it was her child and not his who lay in that hospital bed. Her husband tried to calm her, and I noticed the president wasn’t in a hurry to leave — he tried offering comfort but then just stood and took it, like he expected and needed to hear the anguish, to try to soak up some of her suffering if he could. Later, as we rode back on Marine One to the White House, no one spoke. But as the helicopter took off, the president looked at me and said, “That mama sure was mad at me.” Then he turned to look out the window of the helicopter. “And I don’t blame her a bit.”
This is how you measure a man, by what he is willing to face. By my lights, he measures pretty well.
It goes against all the narratives — from the “He’s a moron,” to “He faked his service,” to “George Bush hates black people,” to “He uncovered a CIA agent” (No, that was Richard Armitage) to “He blew it on Katrina” (actually, Donna Brazile admitted he did not).
The one narrative that was true about George W. Bush is that he would not fight the untrue narratives because — as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “a lie can’t last forever” — and because, as a Christian, he followed the example of the Master.
People would call that impractical, politically stupid. Within the horizon of the world, that is probably correct. Beyond that horizon, it is not.
President George W. Bush, for all of his flaws, lived his office like a man-in-full, with dignity, sanity, self-deprecating humor, and grace, and for the most part he got the back of everyone’s hands. Today, I’m seeing some people on social media say “mea culpa” — in part because he is speaking up against bigotry, which is important, and in part because it serves their politics, which is not.
Some will simply praise him, now, because it has become “safe” to do so.
But he’s owed those apologies, so let’s make them sincere.