After taking a “shellackin’” at the polls on Nov. 2, President Obama and his Democratic Congressional allies have been laying low. Meanwhile, Republicans, confident after their 60-seat sweep in the House, are gloating; “the American people,” equated with the disproportionately old and white electorate that voted Nov. 2, were “heard at the ballot box” — at least according to Speaker-to-be John Boehner. As the party that led America into two armed conflicts in the last decade takes power once again, it is a better time than any to consider war and peace — and the Presidency that was defined by them.
Perhaps emboldened by this Republican sweep, former President George W. Bush has recently made headlines with the release of his memoirs, “Decision Points.” Though he has refrained from commenting on Obama’s presidency — swearing to Oprah that he’s “through with politics” — in a series of recent interviews he has plumbed the political. None of his excuses or defenses have been surprising.
In his first major media appearance, Bush sat down for an interview with Matt Lauer. In it, he confessed that the worst moment of his presidency was being called a racist by Kanye West. He rued his gaffes, such as declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq two months after the war began, saying that Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was doing a “heck of a job,” and being caught by a camera in an iconic image surveying the wreckage of New Orleans from Air Force One. For these public relations disasters, he admitted, “it’s always my fault.”
But regarding substantive errors, Bush was completely unapologetic. The former commander-in-chief either defended or failed to address his wartime blunders: acting on intel that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks, invading Iraq, torturing enemy combatants, subverting civil rights and defending waterboarding. He refused to apologize for leading America into a $3 trillion war, saying he “[didn’t] believe it was the wrong decision;” he merely confessed that he was “deeply disappointed” that neither Osama bin Laden nor weapons of mass destruction were ever found. He defended waterboarding as legal “because the lawyer said it’s legal,” apparently unaware that the decision of one lawyer does not decide the law, domestic or international.
At home, the economy over which he presided was far from peaceful. He defended his tax cuts with a frequently used yet factually bankrupt argument. He claimed that small businesses had created the most jobs — true, using a definition that counts a 500-employee firm as a “small business” — yet also argued that those same small businesses were taxed via income tax on their proprietors — true in the case of mom-and-pop operations, but not much beyond that, and certainly not for a 500-employee operation. On the issues that mattered, Bush was woefully unrepentant.
Unfortunately, Lauer’s interview will likely be the most hostile atmosphere Bush will have to face; he followed it up by appearing on all three Fox News prime time slots (including two appearances with Sean Hannity), Rush Limbaugh and Oprah. Ultimately, we were reminded that Bush wasn’t out to make a statement. He was out to sell his book and then, in his words, go “underground” and let history be the judge. He wishes to be remembered as a wartime president who made necessary but uncomfortable decisions and a decider who kept us safe from terror.
But from the little that these interviews have shown us, if anything, George Bush is completely unapologetic and himself convinced of his “success.” But if any other evidence is to be trusted — from his historically low approval ratings to a survey of presidential historians that ranked him as the 39th best of 44 presidents — history is already quite capable of judging. The verdict is that Bush’s presidency, wracked with the questionable waging of a questionable war, should be remembered as anything but a “success.”
Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.