Get Motivated, George W. Bush
By Jared Crum '11
George W. Bush always said that history would vindicate him. It seems history has just arrived.

Standing on the National Mall in the minutes after Barack Obama became President, waving to the helicopter carrying George Bush away from the nation’s capital and out of our lives, I never would have imagined writing this column. I was convinced that Bush’s vision for America was slipping away— inexorably, and thankfully. A new day was dawning.

I was right, but it wasn’t the day I wanted or the day I anticipated. It was a day rife with Republican madness, and, all of a sudden, President Bush didn’t seem so bad. Without having George to kick around anymore, liberals received the likes of Tea Partiers Rand Paul and Sharron Angle. If they overplay their hand, this crop may prove to be a gift to the Democratic Party. But right now they’re poised to bring Washington to a halt come January.

This Republican Party three-ring circus has me pining for the return of George W. Bush, at least in a rhetorical role. Oratory and rhetoric were never the Texan’s best subjects, but he talked a good game about some topics, and did a few genuinely courageous things in office. He often liked to think of himself as a Churchillian poll-ignorer (he even installed a bust of the Brit in the Oval Office).

Bush’s overtures to Islam recently came to mind as the country spiraled into Islamophobia. Bush was fond of calling Islam a “religion of peace.” He emphasized that America was not at war with the faith, and held events with American Muslim leaders during his time as President. Perhaps, as a faithful Christian, he recognized the commonalities the two Abrahamic traditions share. Perhaps, as a strategist, he realized he couldn’t alienate a billion people and beat the terrorists. All this conciliation never sat well with the Republican base, but he did it anyway.

Immigration reform was another chance Bush seized to buck his party’s most extreme elements. Ignoring the anti-immigrant howls volleyed from the Republican balcony, Bush gave immigration reform its own Oval Office address and proposed a guest worker program and a path to citizenship. It went nowhere. Since then, the immigration situation and its politics have only worsened (see: Arizona, State of).

In the preceding instances, Bush separated himself from the current Republican batch by cooperating with members of the other party and thinking seriously about how to ensure national security. He was willing to work with Ted Kennedy on immigration (as he did on education reform) and to make overtures to American Muslims. Are these traits of bipartisanship and serious policy effort in vogue with today’s Republicans? As Sarah Palin once said, “Hell no!”

Thus, the time has come for George W. Bush to reemerge. History’s here, George. You’re vindicated. You were not as irresponsible, not as extremist, not as doctrinaire, not as short-sighted and not as politically suicidal as the current Republican Party. You look good. We need your strong leadership, and fast.

Bush must start speaking out. He should condemn the bigotry-tinged attacks on the Americans building the Park51 Islamic center in Manhattan. He should denounce general anti-Muslim sentiment and explain why he always called Islam peaceful. He should remind his party that Obama is a Christian. He should tell the Birthers they’re nuts. He should clear the air, and remind the Republican Party they have a patriotic duty to help fix problems, not say “no” to everything, including things they’ve always favored.

Since leaving office, Bush has given little hope for any acts of courage like these. He has remained monk-like in his quietude, arising at five o’clock each morning to write his memoir. He collected a hefty speaking fee at a “Get Motivated” seminar. It’s beneath you, George, and “Get Motivated” is scammy anyway. Speak up! For a man who prided himself on political courage, George Bush is being very craven.

Was it all an act, like so many other things about his career? He said privately gay marriage just wasn’t that important to him. He jettisoned “compassionate conservative” as soon as he no longer needed it. He built a photo-op ranch in 1999 just in time to build his Texas brush-clearing bona fides for Election 2000. Maybe Bush’s “courage” was just another great set piece.

Bush has little excuse for reticence when there’s an easy example for what he could do. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara presided over escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam. A believer in the power of numbers and systems analysis, McNamara saw body bags as statistics, and often little else. The result was military strategy with statistical precision but no moral awareness. In the years after Vietnam, McNamara publicly recanted, expressed regret and wrote a whole book about it. Filmmaker Errol Morris’s documentary about McNamara’s ethical turmoil won an Oscar.

This kind of thing is rare. It’s what George Bush should do. He must wrestle with the great questions of our politics in public — candidly — for all to see. He must challenge and rethink when needed and provide guidance and direction when his party goes off the rails. Then, maybe, just maybe, he’d jump leagues down the path toward redemption and — as he wished — vindication. It all starts by speaking out.

George W. Bush once said of Barack Obama, “He deserves my silence.” Mr. President, America deserves your voice.

Issue 02, Submitted 2010-09-20 20:18:02