Saturday, October 8, 2005
The Bush Legacy
A friend called attention the other day to a seminar he attended sponsored by a large corporation that featured a personage who pioneered the field of private intelligence forecasting. He is reputed to be an expert on the long range forecast as well as [a] guides the strategic vision of his group. Evidently the expert has been paid big bucks to give his analysis of political conditions. The transcript of his opinion runs some 31 pages. In it he gives his views on George W. Bush. Reading it, all I can say with charity, is proof if any more be needed, of business frequent inability to judge political events. I might say that I have heard more learned opinions at the brass rail of my favorite Gale Street Inn.
Having said that, let me give unsolicited and for free my view of the Bush legacy. It will be very great indeed. His current low status in the polls is not important since under law he cannot run again. Imagine, if you would, that we were living in 1864 and had retained a global strategic expert to analyze the low estate of Abraham Lincoln. The civil war is bloody, going badly, the generals on the Union side have been shifted regularly: McClellan has been in command twice, then removed. Burnside was an absolute failure; Hooker deserving of his name; Meade has failed to follow up on a victory. Lincoln has just placed in command a man with a spotty record from Galena, Illinois who reportedly has had a drinking problem, who in private life had worked for his father-in-law at a tannery. Against this widely rumored poor dissolute wreck is Robert E. Lee, who graduated high on the list at West Point and who actually was offered the post of commander of the Union armies but turned it down because he loved his own state of Virginia more than he did his country.
The president of the Confederate States is a gentleman of great bearing, an aristocrat and former U.S. Secretary of War as well as a former Senator. The Union president is a man of little formal education who only served as Congressman for one term and who, while prosperous, was a railroad lawyer and state legislator who, in deference to his monetary trade, had arranged for the Illinois Central to jog this way and that throughout the state to satisfy various constituencies. He is a man overwhelmed with work, who came to his office without having made a great impression on the country and who wobbled this way and that on the issue of slavery. I have no doubt that my global analyst friend would give Lincoln very low marks.
This is simply to say that George W. Bush will be remembered as a very great presidentif things only continue as they have been until the completion of his second term. Why do I say that? And will he be remembered as greater than, say, Ronald Reagan who really deserves credit for winning the Cold War? Very likely yes if things go as they have. Reagan will be remembered as one who took hold of the rudder from the trembling, uncertain hands of Jimmy Carter and steered the ship to port. In doing so, he reverted to the same course as had been taken by Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedyfirmness where it counted and (unique with Reagan) an eloquence rarely heard in our statecraft, even more so than John Kennedys. This is to say that Reagan was a continue-er of a tradition that has made us proud, not that he devised a new course.
After 9/11 Bush devised a new course. Nowhere is it better illustrated than in the book The Pentagons New Map by Thomas Barnett. In essence, Bush moved from a reactive position to a pro-active one, believingcorrectly I feelthat the growth of democracy wherever it can be nurtured is the best course for our country. Barnett is not a great writer but Bush adopted his conceptthat we must be involved in the nurturing of democracy among the Third World countries (this does not always mean war but the uniting of other developed nations in this enterprise). Moreover he adopted as his own the ideas of Natan Schransky who lays it out better than I have ever seen it described. By benefit of hindsight, we can now look at Lincoln of 1864 and see great changes in place. He had finally found a general in Grant; he had penned one of the greatest documents in our history that extended the magnificent reach of the Declaration. Yes, to wage a civil war he had to trample on some of our sacred liberties but he was a benevolent man and relinquished that power as the war eased to victory. It is for this reason that some peoplenot Ibelieve Lincoln was the greatest president (theyre wrong: Washington was because without him we would not have had a Lincoln).
Now look with a broad view at what has happened in this nation under Bush. First, he responded magnificently to 9/11everyone gives him credit for that. Mis-led as was his predecessor president and as were his fellow heads of state on WMD he entered Iraq on the gamble that removing Saddam Hussein was essential to bringing democracy to the Middle East. Over massive criticism he has held to that conviction. Iraq is on the way to democracy; Afghanistan, as we are reminded by this nations (I believe) finest political analyst, Michael Barone (main author of the yearly bible, The Almanac of American Politics), has several millions of people voting; Lebanons Cedar Revolution is as inspiring as the fall of the Berlin Wall; Egypt had its first popular election this month (with the Washington Posts David Ignatius reporting that the election is potent because its coming from Arab societies themselves and not just from democracy enthusiasts in Washington. Democracy is contagious as Bush foresaw. Against their wills the French, British and Germans seem to understand this now, China with power over North Korea is beginning to recognize it. None of these changes would have been possible without a Bush in the White House.
As I am quick to recognize as grandfather of 13, four of them boys, that the progress thus far in Iraq has been attained at great cost. While this pro-lifer knows that no life lost can be replaced, let us understand that the carnage is less than are taken on this nations urban streets in a given year. I certainly fault Bush for not adopting the Colin Powell rule of sending an overwhelming number of troops to accomplish this. I wish Bush were as eloquent as Reagan or as Kennedy, and wish he had responded to Hurricane Katrina as he did with 9/11. I wish he had vetoed at least one spending bill and would not seek to rival the Great Society in rebuilding New Orleans. But on the economy, it is going fine although our people seem to believe it is not; the war overhangs their mood. But they will find out the real facts in timeincluding the one that tells us that China and India with 37 percent of the worlds population are transforming their economy from Third World to First World. Does Bush deserve all this credit? No. But some? Yes, because of all the worlds leaders, he has charted a vision that we can understand and follow. It is free trade and the determination to root out injustice where we cannot, as Robert Taft once said, in order to give milk to the Hottentotsbut to make the world safer as to protect ourselves.
The recent Pew Trust polling shows diminishing world support for Islamist terrorists; the modernization of China shows that it may not be a threat that some conservatives have forecastbecause, as Bush has said and I believe, nations that are economically viable do not war with each other now. On the domestic political front, Bush has expended so much energy that he is down in the polls. Certainly were there polls taken in 1864 Lincoln would have been at his nadir. We know he wrote a private memo to himself that listed virtually as 50-50 whether or not he would be reelected.
On the political front, there is only one thing that worries me greatly. That is the utter dissolution of the Democratic Party into a party that is not worthy to govern: that is harshly protectionist, isolationist, left-tilted to the extreme. I am old enough to remember the great Democratic Partythe party of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy, of leaders in the Senate like Tom Connally of Texas, Paul Douglas of Illinois. Quite frankly, successors to these men cannot survive in the left-wrenched Democratic Party and it is endemic that this nation will be turning to another party to lead it. I say most reverently, most fervently: God help us if that is the Democratic Party of today as it is presently constituted. I went to bed on the night of Nov. 2, 1960 not knowing if Richard Nixon or John Kennedy had won, but slept the sleep of the just because I knew that either of those young men could govern. I am not sure anyone worthy of removing the Republicans from office can do so. I say it not as a partisan cry but as a sad lament. The moral bankruptcy of the Democratic Party, the fall from grace of liberalism from a cause of help for the underprivileged it once held to a pandering to exotic whim and behavior is our most severe domestic problem. And on this somber note I conclude.