The dedication of the George W. Bush presidential Library yesterday was an amazing thing to behold. There, on one stage were the five living Presidents. All of them gave short speeches, and with a few exceptions their remarks were full of grace and class, and appropriate dignity. Watching the thing made me realize that there must be something wrong with me, because for the life of me I couldn’t help liking all five of them. Partisans on both sides of our political divide are always disgusted by these sorts of events. Their views of history and politics are so heated and passionate, that giving kudos to the other side for any reason and at any time seems traitorous. But what I saw were five basically good men united by love of country and a mutual acknowledgement of how monumentally difficult is the job of President.
There was George Bush the elder, 88 years old, feeble yet universally respected. A man who defied his wealthy Dad and ran off to serve his country in World War II as a pilot even though his wealthy background could have guaranteed him a less dangerous place of service.
There was Jimmy Carter, the sometimes stern and uninspiring man from Georgia with the awkward manner and in many ways disastrous Presidency, who nonetheless has managed to redeem his legacy by his amazing post-presidency works of charity. By all accounts, a decent man, without guile.
There was Bill Clinton, the lovable rogue from Arkansas who disgraced himself and his office by having sexual dalliances with a 21 year old intern. In other words, he made the mistake of committing adultery in the era of cable television. Certainly I am not excusing his behavior, just pointing out that previous Presidents guilty of the same offences had the advantage of a disinterested press and the relative anonymity of the pre-television era. Despite his failings as a husband, there was always something endearing about Bill. He was “Bubba”, and everybody from the south knew someone just like him, someone they kinda liked anyway. Clinton loved his country and still retains the optimism we so desperately need in our leaders.
There was President Obama, who except for the crass and untimely attempt to advance his immigration legislation, managed to give as graceful and magnanimous a speech as one could ever want from a sitting President at the Library dedication of his predecessor. Even though my views about Obama are widely known to readers of this blog, there are times when he rises to the occasion beautifully. He has it within him to make us think about noble things, bigger and grander things than mere politics, and when he chooses to, it’s an awesome and moving thing to behold.
Then, there was George W. His was a tragic presidency, born in controversy, and possessed and overcome by the events of 9/11. There was much for a libertarian like me to find objectionable. His was not the most fertile mind to ever occupy the oval office, but he also wasn’t the dullest. He seemed to revere the Presidency, as if he knew that he occupied it largely because of an accident of birth. His respect for the country and its traditions demonstrated how much he loved America. His ability for self-deprecating humor and his always optimistic, if sometimes naïve view of America’s place in the world was admirable. Most Americans could easily imagine having a beer with the guy, and for me that counts for something. I prefer approachable Presidents.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that these five men all pissed me off very many times as President, but I believe in my heart that each of them are good men, men who loved their country and tried to the best of their understanding and ability to make the country better. If that makes me insufficiently partisan then, so be it. God bless each of them.