George W. Bush is 70

I suspect that, if I ever meet George W. Bush, I will find him personally engaging.

Address to the Nation on Immigration. Oval Office.
Address to the Nation on Immigration. Oval.

Last year, a publisher was deaccesioning some books in anticipation of a move. I got for free about twenty books, among them, the 2004 anthology George W. Bush: Evaluating the President at Midterm. The first chapter, by Bill Kirtley, was called The Arbiter of Fate and had a brief but useful bio.

The death of his little sister Robin in 1953 colored his worldview, especially when he learned his parents had hidden her advancing leukemia from him. “His cousin Elsie Walker observed: ‘You…see your parents suffering so deeply and try to be cheerful and funny, and you end up becoming a bit of a clown.'”

She explained that “there was a lot of pressure to develop himself. He was a bit of a disappointment and hid it “by adopting a nonchalant attitude.” But it also meant some anger issues, “when he drank or suspected people of treating his family unfairly.”

The first time I paid any attention to George W. Bush was when he was running for governor of Texas against Ann Richards in 1994. The Democratic firebrand had spoken at the 1988 Democratic convention about W’s dad as having been “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Of course, GHWB won the Presidency.

She referred to W as Shrub, and other diminutives, but that failed to work as well. As governor, she had vetoed a bill allowing Texans to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons, which he promised to sign, and eventually did. There was a rumor that she was a lesbian, which The Atlantic magazine and others connected to Bush advisor Karl Rove, though Rove denied being involved.

He ran for President in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative.” In Texas, he had cut taxes, supported the education of the dangers of alcohol and drug use and abuse – in part because of his own experience – and helped to reduce domestic violence. He had a mixed environmental record.

I had been really annoyed with the sweetheart deal he had been involved in purchasing the Texas Rangers baseball team. If I had been a Republican in 2000, I would have preferred John McCain in the primaries.

But George W. Bush won the nomination. I need not rehash Bush V. Gore, where the Supreme Court determined that Bush beat Vice-President Al Gore in Florida and thereby won the election, though he had lost the popular vote.

Oddly, when the US had an incident with China in April 2001, I said to myself, “I wonder what [Bill] Clinton’s going to do about… wait a minute, he’s not president anymore!” Seriously, the post-election fight had gone on so long that I forgot, briefly, the outcome.

Of course, there was 9/11. I always thought those calls for him to return immediately from Florida to DC were, given the lack of information in those early hours, terribly irresponsible. I was pleased that he blunted anti-Muslim sentiment, something missing in subsequent Republican leaders.

I understood, at least, the beginning of the Afghan war. But, it was weird that it quickly fell off the radar, as the drumbeat for a SECOND front, this time against Iraq, was being sounded. Iraq NEVER made any sense to me, and I protested the build-up for the six months before the invasion, and the subsequent, and incorrect, “Mission Accomplished.” Moreover, the fact that we were fighting these wars without paying for them was the height of fiscal irresponsibility.

When he ran for reelection in 2004, there was a debate question about religion. W talked about his “born-again” religious conversion. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, indicated his Catholic “feed the hungry, clothe the naked” doctrine. I thought Kerry did fine, but the pundits found his theology not compelling.

Domestically, there was Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, which was a disaster made worse by government non-response. And the economic collapse on Wall Street defined his last year in office. His administration also had its own email scandal.

Ultimately, it was eight years of living dangerously. I don’t think George W. Bush was like Harry Truman, vilified at the time, but treated more kindly by history. I agree with his father, 41, that 43 was ill-served by W.’s Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

I suspect that, if I ever meet George W. Bush, I would find him personally engaging. But he was a terrible president.
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Review: ‘Bush,’ a Biography as Scathing Indictment