February 9, 2005
The steady climb up RushmoreBy Matthew May
Obviously, it is too early to pass final judgment on the presidency of George W. Bush. His second term is not even a month old. Yet in his first four years, events beyond his control, his words, his policies, and his actions in response to these events, have placed him on a path that few in American history have trod.
No president since Abraham Lincoln was presented with the degree of carnage and death on American ground that confronted President Bush on September 11, 2001; and no president in history has had to confront so cruel and vile a threat that was able to so—well disguise itself within our society. Yet rather than rely on the old responses to terrorism, President Bush decided to move ahead and deal with these threats for what they were — egregious violations of our land, our people, and our way of life that were to be met with violence and death, and that were to be met before American citizens would suffer again. The President summed things up best at West Point:
'The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology —— when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends —— and we will oppose them with all our power.
'For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence — the promise of massive retaliation against nations — means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.
'We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non—proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.'
Faced with this new threat and a new kind of enemy, President Bush changed the policy of the United States and ushered in a new, bold, dynamic, and necessary answer to those who would murder us in our places of work, in our skies, and in our homes. In doing so, he risked his presidency and his place in history. He was brave enough in our brave new world to call evil by its name. He did so not to be bold, or to settle a score with a man who tried to kill his father, but because he thought it was the right thing to do. He believed it was his duty to do so and live up to the oath of office he took in January 2001.
What has this policy yielded? It has brought the destruction of the Taliban, and their regime of terror on women, homosexuals, and children. Free elections were held in Afghanistan and established a sane government. The policy saw the removal and capture of the thug, murderer and rapist Saddam Hussein in Iraq, perhaps the most brutal dictator since Hitler and Stalin, as well as the deaths of his vile sons. The President finally held Hussein to the cease—fire agreement which followed the Gulf War, and in the process his deeds implicitly held the United Nations to account as well, exposing this organization for the fraud that it has become. This past summer, Iraq sent a delegation to the Olympic Games in Athens, and the athletes competed without the fear of torture and death hanging on their performances.
A few days ago, Iraq's citizens, finally secure in the knowledge that the United States and President Bush would not abandon them in the face of this terror, defied threats of violence and the end of their own lives to cast their ballots for a constitutional convention. They did so in numbers that made the American electorate blush. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Yet had President Bush's opponent in November won our election, can it be said with certainty that the Iraqi people would still have had the opportunity to vote on the day that this nation promised?
By quiet example — and not empty braggadocio coupled with a wild scramble for dark or female faces — President Bush has steadily broken barriers, bringing superlative Americans to take their rightful places among the leadership of this nation. His Cabinet truly glitters with the best and the brightest. The chief examples are, of course, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General Al Gonzales, and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Yet the President, who is constantly ridiculed for an imagined relationship to the good ol' oil boys at Halliburton, the lily—WASP club of Yale, and the mysterious Skull and Bones, is the only president in history to appoint and elevate members of traditionally—overlooked groups to the most important Cabinet posts. The only thing more remarkable about that is that President Bush did not appoint these people because of a self—imposed or legally imposed quota, but because they are quite simply the best America has to offer.
President Bush surely did not set out to leave the nation in the hands of the first black female Commander—in—Chief, but if certain groups within the Republican Party have their way, that is precisely what he will have done. Even if that does not come to pass in four years, history will remember that it was President George W. Bush who showed the world that while the content of one's character trumps the color of one's skin, our ministers to the globe are successively a black man and a black woman, despite Jefferson's immaculate pen excluding those two when declaring that all men are created equal. The significance of this is not to be diminished.
Presidential scholars present and future must study with interest and instruction the way in which this President has handled the news media. President Bush does not enjoy the easy rapport of a bygone era, one in which Franklin Roosevelt could talk fairly freely among a media that had enough self—respect not to publish pictures of the disabled President in a state of disability. It is safe to say that most in the White House press corps, judging by their pedantic immaturity and hopeless dreaming of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein in 'demanding' that the Commander—in—Chief become the Confessor—in—Chief, look upon President Bush with not simply hostility, but disdain.
If any President had good cause to draw up an enemies list, it is George W. Bush. Yet he has obviously learned much from the harm done by that sort of thing, and is too disciplined and focused to go down the dark road of Nixon. He also watched his father's good manners let a vicious press get away with calling a war hero a wimp. Rather than let these fools push him around, the President gives as good as he gets: allowing as much access as is appropriate, joshing with the reporters and giving them jocular nicknames, but not allowing them to call the tune, meanwhile letting the media spin themselves into a frenzy of wonderment at how the simpleton bested them again. Simply put, President Bush dismisses these fools as the necessary evil they have let themselves become, and lets a public more sophisticated in the ways of the old media (thanks to the new media) make the judgment as to who is smart and who is not, as to who is doing their job and who is not.
In this media—driven age of 24—hour news cycles and the presence of certain ex—presidents who seemingly cannot get enough camera time to hawk a book or criticize the sitting President for being a dismal failure, President Bush is the closest thing we have to a modern—day Cincinnatus. When the President leaves Washington on January 20, 2009, he will retire to the place he loves most, his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Sure, he will be visible when he surfaces to open his library, publishes his memoirs, or goes to a Rangers game or two. He won't completely vanish.
But you won't see him on the talk circuit pontificating on what his successors should or shouldn't do, you won't observe him hoping and wishing for some UN job to give him something to do, nor will you find him publicizing private charity. You'll find him on his environmentally—friendly ranch, clearing brush, fishing, driving his super duty truck, reading, and hanging out with Barney. A great deal of this President's leadership is derived from the fact that he does not crave the spotlight, nor does he insatiably crave power for power's sake. He understands better than most that in this Republic, one's time at the helm of the ship of state is finite, and that he best use his limited time to accomplish something more than mere territory on the political battleground. When he is finished, it is his duty to step aside and let another assume the controls. This sort of humility is rare among the powerful and does not jibe with the multitudes that mistake the President's self—assuredness for hubris. This sort of humility is the mark of greatness.
No man is perfect, not even the men whose faces are chiseled in stone on South Dakota's most famous mountain. There are difficult challenges ahead in battling our enemies and amid domestic political squabbles. But President Bush will be honored in the annals of history as not just a great President, but as a great man. He will be remembered for his broad, sweeping vision of freedom that not only touted the greatest ideals of the United States, yet fulfilled them here and around the world to the best of his ability. He will be remembered for not allowing our nation to cower in fear of terrorism, and he will remembered for taking the battle to the terror mongers themselves, to destroy them on their own breeding ground before they could destroy us. He will be remembered as a liberator of the oppressed. He will be remembered for looking history in the eye and refusing to blink.
President Bush will be remembered thusly because those of us young enough to outlast the liars, cheats, bandits, losers, and phonies that make up the leftist establishment of the Democratic Party, 'international community,' media and academia intend to write that history ourselves. That history will not be hagiography. No administration and no president are flawless, and there have been mistakes made in this administration, as there were mistakes made in every presidency. And yes, there have been mistakes made in the prosecution of the war on terrorism, as there have been mistakes made in the prosecution of every war known to man. Yet the mistakes are minimal in light of what has been accomplished in four years, and those accomplishments are beginning to pile up in the manner of the immortals that came before President Bush. We intend to carve this man into history's pantheon, right where he belongs.
Matt May can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; his blog is mattymay.blogspot.com