George W. 'Deer in Headlights' Bush

I admire President Bush. I think he is a good man and I have said so before. But as Bush leaves office he is looking more and more like a deer in headlights.

Plato makes it clear in the Statesman that there is no instruction manual for the great political leader. Such a book cannot be written.[i] The issues the president faces are dictated by an ever-changing world. A president, as statesman, must be able to adapt to these economic, social, and political contingencies.

A sound education, a clear and steady mind, real world experience, a moral compass, the ability to listen to and understand conflicting points of view, superior communication skills, common sense and courage are the tools a statesman needs. With the possible exception of education, none of these skills can be taught. They must be lived, learned, and earned.

The president has the toughest job in the world. If the president lacks any of those previously mentioned attributes he may muddle through his tenure in office -- but he will not be remembered as a statesman.

Bush recently gave a short speech and answered questions (though he dodged the tough ones) at the American Enterprise Institute. You can see the interview here. The transcript is here. A review of his remarks shows why G.W. Bush is not a statesman and it explains why he has been governing this country, especially in the last several months, like a deer in headlights.

Christopher De Muth, President of AEI and the interviewer, specifically asked Bush why he signed the McCain/Feingold campaign reform legislation into law and why the Justice Department argued in favor of the constitutionality of the law. The underlying question was: Had the President broken his oath to defend the Constitution when he signed the bill?

Here is Bush's reply. (He spoke first about a president's war powers -- which had nothing to do with the question):

And as you know, I have been aggressive at pursuing the enemy within the bounds of the Constitution. And some of the decisions I have made are being adjudicated in the court. And so I'll dodge the one on legislation, but I won't when it comes to taking a constitutional view of the office of the presidency. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, Bush talked the talk but he did not walk the walk. This was almost always true when it came to wielding the veto pen. Bush couldn't find the veto pen -- let alone use it. Bush would not even veto legislation that he knew was unconstitutional. "Taking a constitutional view" is not the same thing as taking a constitutional stand. Statesmen don't "take views" on the Constitution -- they defend the Constitution with their deeds.

The follow-up question proves the point. DeMuth asked Bush if it was harder to work with a Republican or Democrat Congress. Here is part of Bush's response:

In some ways it was more difficult because when you work with the [Republican] Congress, there was an ability at times to forgo Republican principles, and it put the President in an awkward position.... It's easier to veto bills ... when the Democrats are in power, because, after all, it's Republicans who crafted the bills coming in.

Bush did nothing to stop profligate spending by the Republican Congress. His excuse was that the situation was "awkward." These are not the words of a statesman. Statesmen do not "forgo principles."

If additional proof is needed that Bush "takes views" on principles, but does not defend them, take a look at the video of this disquieting declaration by the President, "I've abandoned free market principles to save the free market system." Listen to his voice. Watch his demeanor. This is a defeated man, a tired man, anything but a statesman.

Contrast that statement with Bush's comment from the AEI interview:

I have found that in order to have good decision-making and a White House that functions well, that the President needs to articulate a set of principles from which he will not defer.

Nice words. Except that Bush did defer from his political (as opposed to his moral) principles time and time again.

I have heard his supporters argue that Bush's Christianity led to his endless attempts to compromise. Partially true -- but I no longer think this is the entire story. DeMuth asked Bush "What will you miss least when you leave office?" Here is the first half of the President's answer:

I have been disappointed at times about the politics of personal destruction.... I came with the idea of changing the tone in Washington, and frankly didn't do a very good job of it.  ...surely we can do a better job in Washington of treating each other with respect. I don't want to be a self-serving fellow, but I have never used my position as President to personally denigrate somebody. [Emphasis added.]

Statesmen don't come to Washington to change the tone; they come to Washington, like Reagan did, to change policy. Throughout the interview Bush refers to abstract principles, and to his "view" or his "take" on these principles. Bush spent so much time trying to change the unchangeable (like the greed and corruption of elected political officials) that he ended up changing nothing at all.

Notice that Bush blames himself for his failure to remake the tone in DC. This may appear to some to be "Christian humility." I find this kind of self-deprecation tawdry. No Christian is responsible for the moral failures of others. Christian doctrine teaches that Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world (including those sinners currently residing in Washington, DC). Bush, apparently, thinks that this was his job.

Even more disturbing was the second half of his response to the question:

I'm disappointed in how -- the words that came out of people's mouth and I'm very disappointed of how the process has treated some of my friends. I'm disappointed in the judicial process, for example, where our nominees just got held up there forever. Never had a chance to get a hearing and yet all kinds of stuff were occasionally floated on them about their reputations. It's going to be hard to attract good people to the political process if people show up and feel like that their integrity or decency will be, you know, challenged at every turn.... There is something wrong with tearing people down for their -- trying to help somebody else gain politically. [Emphasis added.]

This description of Bush's reaction to how his friends and court nominees were treated by his political opposition borders on cowardice. It is not Christian by any stretch of the imagination.

Matthew 5:39 states:

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

This commandment applies only to an injustice done to the individual. It does not apply to the cheeks of friends and political nominees.

Depending on the circumstances, if someone slaps my wife in the face it may be her duty as a Christian to turn the other cheek. (The idea behind the scripture is: do not respond to evil with evil. The scripture does not say, "Never, under any circumstances, defend yourself when attacked.")

Regardless of my wife's circumstances and duty when slapped, it is my duty, as her friend, protector, and husband, to slap my wife's assailant back -- and to slap the slapper as hard and as often as is necessary to stop that person from hitting my wife. That is the duty of a Christian. Nowhere in the scriptures is it commanded that we must tolerate the abuse of another human being. Such a teaching would be sadomasochism -- not Christianity.

Bush's reaction could be weakness. His job as president was not to offer after the fact condolences and excuses to his friends and his nominees who were viciously and immorally mistreated by the Democrats and the press. He duty was to defend his friends and nominees with all of his might.

That is what a Christian should have done. That is what a statesman would have done.

So is George W. Bush a coward? Is he weak? I doubt it. Weaklings don't become presidents. The road to the White House is too long, harsh, and brutal.

President Bush is not a coward. President Bush is a convert. Two crucial things happened to Bush before he went to Washington: he found religion and he governed Texas.

When I covered the Democrat National Convention for American Thinker, I had a long conversation with a very senior Democrat state representative from Texas. This elderly gentleman was Hispanic. He was a Hillary delegate to the convention. He had many unkind words for Barack Obama. We quickly became friends.[i]

My friend did have good things to say, on the record, about George W. Bush. Bush was eager to compromise and work with the Democrats in Texas. And the Texas Democrats, most of whom are only slightly less conservative than the Republicans, liked working with Bush.

Bush came to Washington from Texas believing that Democrats were rational in their policies and honest in their promises. He was in for a surprise.

Bush also came to Washington filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ. The religious experience was new and fresh to him. If Christ had changed his life, surely Christ could change others.

I believe that Bush's religious fervor added to his experience governing Texas was the wrong mix at the wrong time in the wrong man.

Any good missionary will tell you that the missionary does not save souls, Jesus does. And any honest politician (if there were such a thing) would tell the missionary, "No thanks." Politicians don't run for office to be saved. They run for office for power -- most of them thinking that they will do the saving, thank you very much.

George W. Bush is a strange and rare mixture of politician and born again Christian. He thought that he could not only save the country, he believed that he could save souls.  Maybe he could have done one or the other -- but not both.

Bush discovered that most politicians are not interested in saving the country. They are interested in staying in power. He also found out, the hard way, that Washington doesn't have many souls that yearn to be saved. It never has had them and it never will.

The lesson we should learn from George W. Bush's tenure in the White House is simple: Politicians, who truly believe that Washington will be a better place once they are finished with it, end up becoming ... deer in headlights.

Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His latest award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved. His memoir, Underground: Life and Survival in the Russian Black Market, has just been released.

[i] Most of his comments were off the record so I will not identify him or repeat his accusations about Obama here.

[i] Highly recommended reading about this topic: Stanley Rosen, Plato's Statesman: The Web of Politics, Yale University Press, 1995.