Restoring the Image of President George W. Bush
See also: Did Bill Maher Just Trump Bush on Islam?
The nation honors the formal opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas Thursday. A library serving as the government repository for the historical documents of the Bush presidency combined with an institute dedicated to promoting the vision and values of President Bush and the first lady Laura Bush will open there.
This historic moment is an important transition to a possibility continually suggested throughout the two presidential terms of George W. Bush: that history would validate and look positively on his global and national service. This analysis examines some important positive corrections to the memory and future understanding of President Bush.
Correction #1: President Bush was an impressive presidential leader who returned civility for incivility
President Bush endured a now four decade long tradition of demonizing Republican presidents since Richard Nixon. The overriding bias of academics, journalists, and Hollywood producers consistently suggests to the general public that these public servants from this political party are unusually unethical, deceptive, ignorant, and harmful to the nation. President Bush endured a high watermark of our intellectual communities' tradition of demonizing a president. President Bush remains one of the most unpopular political figures of modern times.
Despite this long tradition, the president continually displays a positive attitude toward the nation, his critics and even the current president who replaced him. President Bush does not participate in the partisan attacks that dominant the current American civic practice. His restraint and civility remain a model for good leadership and a path back to a better form of politics.
Correction #2: President Bush was a great military leader who defeated Osama Bin Laden's rival vision of America the 'paper tiger'
Without question, the events of September 11, 2001 set the rhetorical frame from which one begins to understand the Bush presidency. Envisioned by terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the grand attack on US soil was the culmination of a growing program of terror. Designed to demonstrate to the world Bin Laden's view that the United States was a paper tiger -- as demonstrated on the streets of Mogadishu and the nation's general reticence for war - 9/11 was a capstone symbolic humiliation of the United States. Bin Laden believed that all people would follow his model of the "strong horse." Bin Laden's increasingly brazen attacks were designed to attract admirers and future participants in his holy war. President Bush set aside promises to not engage in "nation building," issued in the presidential debates of 2000, to strategically restore America's image as an active military power. Combat operations around the world but principally expressed in Afghanistan and Iraq, brought to a decisive end the cowering legacy of Vietnam. America was willing to deploy hundreds of thousands of its precious men and women to fight on the ground with the barbaric cruelty of Islamic supremacists bent on terrifying the world into submissive silence. A predictable pattern of limited American casualties forming the understood calculation for expelling American military force was brought to an end as thousands of our soldiers died in foreign lands. Instead of withdrawing in shame from Iraq in 2007, President Bush surged and restored order to the country in direct defiance to an anti-American war movement that had historically dictated U.S. military deployment to the satisfaction of dictators abroad. In 2013, the risk of U.S. military intervention remains more robust than anytime since Vietnam and America appears as the global 'strong horse.' In his two terms, there were no major terror attacks on the United States.
Correction #3: President Bush was a prudent and effective leader in fiscal and economic policy
The rapid decline and collapse of the American economy in the latter half of 2008 has perpetuated a notion that President Bush can and should be blamed for all economic ills. Taking note of where the nation left the fiscal and economic tracks is easy to do. In January of 2007, the nation strongly ushered the Democratic Party into congressional dominance. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took emphatic control of American fiscal policy and leaders like Barney Frank took the reins of congressional oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-- the nation's largest holder of mortgages. In 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. The annual deficit had fallen from a high of half a trillion dollars in 2005 to less than 170 billion dollars. The declining deficit was a function of growing revenues and a growing economy. 2007 stands as the final year of unblemished American prosperity, the clear departure point where American fiscal and economic policy left the tracks.
But even in crisis, President Bush showed visionary leadership. Conservatives cringe when they think about "too big to fail" and the TARP bailout. Unwilling to look below the mediated surface of Bush Derangement Syndrome, conservatives believe the move in the fall of 2008 was reckless and corporate cronyism at its worst. In reality, the action demonstrated prudence that could teach us many lessons today. The TARP bailout had two stipulations largely ignored by commentators: 1) all funds loaned to banks must be paid back and 2) all funds must be paid back to tax payers with interest. Those two conservative principals worked well and today all TARP funds have been paid back with interest. If such principals were applied to more of the federal budget, our current fiscal crisis could be more easily resolved. President Obama campaigned for re-election on the success of the auto bailout. The renewed economic strength of the auto industry is certainly a matter of great interest but President Obama did not lead the auto bailout. President Bush did. Here again, the bailout adheres to fiscally conservative principals requiring the pay back of loaned funds. Where are the principals of paying back those we owe when a crisis passes today?
Correction #4: President Bush positively impacted the world with a vision of human freedom
Anti-Bush partisans suggest an irrevocable global alienation resulting from the Bush presidency. Yet, while he was in office, democratic elections around the world found more than 300 million people electing the more conservative pro-Bush leader over the more antagonistic figure. Whether in France, Canada, Germany, or South Korea, democratic publics rallied to the Bush ally rather than the Bush rival. Stephen Harper in Canada remains one of the most conservative politicians in the world and has elevated the stature of his nation on the global stage.
On the continent of Africa, the president's strong efforts against deadly malaria and AIDS elevated his popularity toward 80%. Even in some Muslim countries of Africa, Bush is considered a hero. The tens of millions of people adoring this president for good work done there illustrates what might be possible in a world less affected by American and European reactionary media. While the world rose with angry defiance against the Iraq war and American unilateralism, President Bush sent troops to the African nation of Liberia to remove the bloodthirsty tyrant Charles Taylor. This action was decisive in installing the continent's first female president educated at an American university -- Harvard. Bush's diplomacy ultimately severed the genocidally victimized south Sudan from its brutal northern neighbor. The Sudanese leader implemented genocides in the south and western regions of the nation killing more than 2 million Africans. Democratic revolutions as diverse as the Ukraine, Georgia, and Lebanon brought flesh to the president's public words about human freedom.
These corrections are but a small part of a larger public struggle to recover the moral political compass of our nation. As long as one set of reactionary partisans bunkered in the academy, journalism, and Hollywood are allowed to dictate a simple model of good and evil delineated by the sides of the political aisle, the nation will continue to divide itself in an increasingly bitter public sphere.
All Americans should take an interest in the accurate recognition of President Bush's good work. Failing to do so will not appease the angry partisans who brought us to 2013, it will feed them and encourage them.
Ben Voth is the chair of communication studies and director of debate at Southern Methodist University. He is currently working on a book entitled, "Death as text: The Rhetoric of Genocide."