The billboards ask me if I miss George W. Bush, and my honest answer has to be, "No, I don't." I do miss Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I miss John Bolton. But I don't miss Bush. I appreciate that Bush, who found himself suddenly leading a country at war, said most of the right things, and even did some of them too. But he didn't say the most important things of all. And that's the problem.
The Bush I remember picked up a loudspeaker and talked tough at Ground Zero. But he was also the man who gave CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood groups a hall pass to the White House. The man who posed in flight suits and cowboy hats also pushed for amnesty for illegal aliens. He warned about the need to regulate Fannie Mae, but he also oversaw out of control spending, not just for the war effort, but even for the NEA, which even most Republicans marginalized. It isn't so much that Bush was a man of contradictions, we all are. But that he's a poor role model for the challenges that we face today.
Bush confronted terrorists, but appeased Muslims. He threw around money like it grew on trees, which only helped feed the spending frenzy in congress. Bush didn't treat hundreds of billions of dollars like pocket change, the way Obama does. But he did treat hundreds of millions of dollars that way. We just weren't paying attention then, because the economy seemed to be humming along nicely. And so it all sounded good. So what if the NEA's budget got the biggest increase since 1984. It's only money. And it's still only money.
Much as we would like to believe that the Bush era was an abrupt break from the Clinton era, it wasn't. Bush not only kept on some of Clinton's people, from Tenet to Minetta, but kept many of his policies too. Similarly the Obama era isn't a complete break from the Bush era. The men at the top are very different. Many of their associates have changed. But many of the Washington D.C. policies have remained, they've just gotten more irresponsible and destructive. And so have the people implementing them.
Bush didn't endorse a mandatory carbon tax, but he had no problem pushing voluntary ones in global summits. He didn't bow low to the Saudi king, but he did hold hands with him. Before Obama nominated his Associate White House Counsel to an open Supreme Court seat, Bush did the same thing. It was only a desperate effort by Republicans that gave us Justice Samuel Alito, instead of Harriet Miers. Condoleezza Rice was pressuring Israel, before Hillary Clinton got into the act. And before Obama's bailouts, there was Bush's own bailout. There's no comparison between Bush and Obama in matters of character, but unfortunately there are points of comparison in matters of policy.
The point is not to bash Bush, as it is to say that we can do better. That we have to do better.
While George W. Bush's book promotion tour didn't take place before the election as threatened, the post-election tour has taken the focus off the extraordinary coast to coast victories, and instead put them right back on the man of the previous hour. Suddenly we're back to discussing his personal life, and getting an uneasy glimpse at how much he allowed liberal criticism to manipulate his administration, from the Cheney Puppet Master meme to Kayne West. And once again many conservatives are gasping in admiration at his plainspoken language, while overlooking just how liberal many of his policies were.
The attacks of 9/11 insured that we would never really know what the Bush Administration would have been like had fate not intervened. Yet we did get glimpses at the beginning and toward the end. And from the vast expansion of foreign aid to amnesty for illegal aliens, there was every sign that Bush really was committed to his "Compassionate Conservatism" motto. Which may be why, unlike Cheney, he seems to have no problem with Obama, and even writes admiringly of him. He has also refused to condemn the Ground Zero Mosque. While some conservatives are eager to use him as a prop in criticizing Obama, Bush himself actually seems to like Obama.
Bush's conservative credentials rest on two legs, his general pro-business attitude and the War on Terror. And he does deserve plenty of credit for both of them, but while he had the right attitude, both were implemented without considering the long term effects. Which is what helped the Democrats finally bring down the Republican congress and take the White House in 2008. Like far too many of his Republican predecessors, Bush was pro-business and strong on national defense, but hard to distinguish from liberals in most other areas. And unwilling to seriously roll back what the left had done to America.
So no, I don't miss Bush. To miss Bush because of Obama, is as wrong as missing Nixon, because of Carter. It's a flattering comparison, but only by contrast. What we need is more. Much more than that. And at a time when we should be looking toward leadership that will reduce the size of government and its involvement in our lives, stand up to Islam and secure the border-- Bush's reemergence is an unhelpful distraction. As much a reminder of what we shouldn't be doing, as what we should. But it is also a warning.
Two or six years from now we could very well end up with another Bush, and another ride on the same merry-go-round that has been going around for a long time now. And with the likes of Romney and Huckabee crowding around for a shot at the wheel, it's all too likely that our next Republican President will have more in common with Bush, than with the qualities it will take to stand up and save this country. After four to eight years of Obama, it will be all too easy to put our faith in someone who looks the part, and talks the part, rather than acts the part. Who wears cowboy boots, but gives up the ranch. And that won't be enough. Because as there is more than one Bush out there. There's also more than one Obama waiting in the wings. Waiting till another Republican president screws up all over again.