Thursday, January 15, 2009

Parallels between Bush and Lincoln

From CQ Politics comes this commentary. It is hard to imagine from our current vantage point that anyone will look at George W. Bush and see a great president. I have that imagination and I believe that 50 or 100 years from now, Bush will be considered a great president, not the greatest or the best, but a great president. Here is some thinking (not my own, but paralelling mine):
He has faced a number of crises that either no president or at least few have had. First, he was commander in chief when the United States was attacked at home on September 11, 2001. He was decisive in his response and showed admirable leadership both at home and abroad.

The nation now appears headed for disastrous financial calamity, the worst since The Great Depression. His administration has been forceful in trying to bring calm and to allocate money to industries fighting to survive.

And the economic woes of this country — just like other monumental, sea-change problems — did not simply appear one day or go away the next. Sure, this happened under his watch but the seeds for our mortgage, home loan crisis and those of the domestic automobile industry collapse were sown long before Bush first took office.

His administration rid the world and a nation of Sadaam Hussein, a despot whose sordid, tortuous crimes against humanity are well documented.

He paved the way for democracy in Iraq and other countries. It is still too early to tell if democracy will stick in any of those places, but people who have never voted are voting and, among others, women have new found rights to education and liberation.

If we begin to expect that any chief executive of anything — be it a country or a Fortune 500 company — cannot make a mistake or two among the hundreds, perhaps, thousands of decisions they make, then our standards have reached the point of ridiculousness.

Looking at Lincoln and Churchill and how they were viewed both in and out of office indicates how difficult it is to pre-judge history’s final assessment of a leader.

Both men were criticized for making quick and sometimes impulsive decisions against the advice of advisers. At times both were pilloried for decisions regarding war.

Lincoln bore the brunt of criticism for war casualties. More soldiers died at the Civil War battle at Antietam in one day — more than 7,000 — than the number American soldiers who have been killed in the war in Iraq. That number is about 4,500, which is not to imply those deaths are inconsequential or without great heartaches to their families.

Lincoln was criticized, as Bush has been, for running afoul of the Constitution and civil liberties. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which allows imprisoned persons to challenge the legality of their arrests and there were over 10,000 “arbitrary arrests” while Lincoln was in office.

Bush lacks the eloquence of both men.

Churchill was not only a galvanizing and witty speaker, he also wrote a book that won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, “The History of the Second World War.” Lincoln earned immortality with his address at Gettysburg.

We know for virtual certainty that Bush’s speeches will not go down in history. He will not be known for a public display of intellectual depth. What we do not know, however, is how he will be ultimately judged. We know there has not been a foreign attack on our land since 9/11. Is it because of Bush’s policies?

If it is proven he kept our nation safe, we will begin to see him differently as leader.

In fact, only time will tell if he will be viewed as a failure or if, like Lincoln and Churchill, his legacy will grow and expand and shine in the reflected light of history. In the end, it may be he and not Obama found to have more in common with Lincoln.
I know many liberals who will say Bush is the worst president we have ever had. But to be perfectly fair, we simply don't know, we are too close to events and most of us are too partisan to be accurate judges, me included.

But really, the trials of the Bush Administration are unlike no other except maybe FDR and he bottled it for two full terms before economically things started to get better and some have argued, persuasively, that it took a war to make America great again.

Judge not when you are too close to the problem.

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