Avenger of the Bones
posted at 5:36 pm on August 27, 2009 by Doctor Zero
I noticed The Other McCain took exception with a comment in my “Ethics of Ferocity” post from Tuesday:
We’re six months past the point where American voters can be kept quiet by suffocating them with the pillow of Bush hatred. We’re about a month past the point where anyone capable of independent thought believes Obama is a better president than Bush was.
In response, The Other McCain commented on the American Spectator blog:
This is a bad argument, setting up an unnecessary comparison which does nothing to bolster the opposition to Obama. Furthermore, one can easily argue that George W. Bush was a very bad president and that one of the worst aspects of his presidency was that Bush confused people about the meaning of “conservatism” in a way that damaged the Republican Party and made possible Obama’s election.
I’m surprised Other McCain read my original comment as an attempt to elevate Bush. Can’t I just as easily argue that Bush was a bad president, and Obama is worse? I didn’t think the overall tone of my essay conjured an image of Bush atop the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, arms raised in victory, while an exhausted Obama catches his breath a few steps of greatness beneath him.
It’s fair enough to ask me to clarify my opinion of George W. Bush. I’ve only been a blogger for a few months, and the Bush Administration was thousands of years ago, in the Second Age of Middle-Earth, when hobbit unemployment was less than half what it is today, and mortal men were not running a seven-ring deficit. I also think my assessment of Obama’s inferior presidency is objectively true, and demonstrable, without waxing nostalgic about the troubled tenure of his predecessor.
Bush’s greatest flaw was his failure to appreciate, and employ, the persuasive powers of the presidency. His second term was particularly appalling in this regard – he essentially disappeared after his re-election, and was rarely seen again. His problem was not entirely one of delivery. His successor is widely praised as a marvelous speaker, but he’s no better at persuading the electorate than Bush was. Obama’s problem is arrogance, and the urgent need to leverage his brief window of total Democrat power into a permanent victory in the Left’s long war against the middle class. Bush’s problem was a lack of vision.
He could have overcome his clumsy speaking style. A few malapropisms won’t destroy a generally memorable speech. People have been fondly quoting Yogi Berra for decades, after all. The problem is that Bush rarely had anything memorable to say, outside of a few tragic, heroic months in 2001… and in those moments, he spoke to the ages. Nothing Bush or his enemies did, in the uncomfortable latter years of his presidency, diminished the magnificence of his “We Will Prevail” speech. We will prevail, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a generally mediocre president who had a moment of true greatness, in the hour his country needed him most.
For the rest of his tenure, Bush puttered quietly in the political greenhouse, trying to breed the same weird hybrid of conservative ideas and liberal ideals as his father. Both Bushes discovered, too late, that it’s a man-eating plant. George W. Bush’s major conservative domestic achievements were his tax cuts and Supreme Court picks. These were important and desirable, but not enough to slow down the awful leftward pendulum swing that’s killing us.
Tax cuts are not a philosophy, and without a strong conservative philosophy built around them, they are too ephemeral to effect permanent change, especially in a country where only half the citizens pay any income tax at all. Their economic benefits are too easy for the Left to dismiss, particularly with the assistance of a media that reported five percent unemployment as a crisis for the poor damned souls in the job-placement industry. The economy is too complex to be guided by one input factor, while the maze of regulations, subsidies, and other government distortions are left in place. The American culture is too complex to be guided solely by adjustments to the economy. Outside of his tax cuts, Bush either agreed with, or submitted to, far too much of the Left’s agenda, paving the way for the current tragedy.
A great President must be a teacher, with a deathless enthusiasm for teaching the basics, over and over again. This was part of Reagan’s brilliance. Listening to any of his speeches is like replaying a recording of a jovial professor, holding forth in the only class you never wanted to skip. A president must also serve as the leader of his party, without being in complete control of it. This is not easy to do, but Bush didn’t even seem interested in trying. The degenerate state of his party in 2006 is not entirely his fault, but it is his responsibility.
That’s an awful lot of bad stuff to lay on the ex-president. Let me speak in his defense by relaying a personal anecdote. My mother passed away, very suddenly and unexpectedly, on November 11, 2001 – an awful day that fell exactly two months after another awful day. Watching the news one evening, during those two months, she told me how grateful she was for George Bush’s courage and determination in the face of unspeakable evil, and how much safer he made her feel. After she was gone, I wrote a letter to the President, to pass along her thanks and add my own. I never got a reply, and never expected one. I could recite that letter from memory… and if I ever have a chance to meet George W. Bush, I will.
President Bush didn’t do enough to cut the size of government, and rein in runaway spending. His deficits were too high… and his successor tripled them in six months. Bush never sent thugs to beat the protesters who were camped down the street from his house. He didn’t try to prosecute people from Bill Clinton’s administration for political advantage. I don’t recall him blaming any of his problems on Clinton, ever. He didn’t set up Orwellian email accounts to collect information on his critics. He sacrificed his political capital for the benefit of America’s defense, not the other way around. His strategy in Iraq was executed poorly in many respects, but I believe it is a strategy that will prove to have saved countless American and Iraqi lives, in the long run. An Iraqi dubbed him “Avenger of the Bones,” and that name always seemed right to me. Because Americans are not aggressors, conquerors, or helpless victims, we will sometimes need to be avengers.
On balance, I agree with The Other McCain: Bush was a bad president. He was vastly superior to the current occupant of the White House. I see nothing to be gained by keeping quiet about that observation. We owe President Bush that much, because in the horrified silence that followed a cowardly act of mass murder, he raised his voice for us.