Bush deserves credit for his intentions
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
The first vote I ever cast meaningfully, as an 8-year old elementary school student voting in a 2000 mock presidential election, was a vote for George W. Bush, much to the chagrin of a friend of mine who had become a fervent Democrat even by the third grade. As I don’t recall anything about Bill Clinton from my childhood or, for that matter, much of anything having to do with the news before 2000, it was the first political act of my life and a highly amusing one in retrospect. My parents, both firmly left-of-center in their politics, were also greatly amused at the time that their son had voted for the dimmest bulb of the Bush family. But having listened to the candidates’ policy positions and viewpoints (condensed and translated, of course, for third-grader’s ears), I concluded that Bush not only had a better plan for the education and well-being of “kids like me,” for whatever inscrutable reason I may have identified then, I felt that there was a sort of moral wholesomeness to him that was absent in his opponent, Al Gore, and that he would be the right man to lead the country.
I think that it would be fair to say that I grew up, along with every other American kid of my approximate age, in a political environment defined by the personality of George W. Bush. I remember watching him stand atop the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn at his lips, vowing that the United States would avenge the thousands dead on 9/11. When he ordered the invasion of Iraq, I broke the news to my elementary school over the morning news broadcast. (This aroused the ire of the principal, who rightly found it inappropriate for me, the school’s weatherman, to be discussing warfare with third graders, much less to conclude the impromptu bulletin with “…and may God bless America.”) I followed the movement of U.S. troops from Basra to Falluja to Baghdad on a National Geographic map as reports about the war’s progress came through the radio in my room and rejoiced when the President famously and portentously declared, two months into the war, “Mission Accomplished.” It was only after the costs and body counts began to swell that I turned against him, as so many did, denouncing him as a warmonger and petrocrat when we could no longer conceive that there had been a mission in the first place.
It was hard to be indifferent toward Bush. He provided a moral certitude and strength to a stunned nation in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that few leaders could. Immediately following the crisis, the president’s approval rating spiked to an all-time high, for any president, of 90 percent – an unfathomable figure given today’s political realities. It was comforting to hear from him that the United States had come face to face with pure evil in the form of al-Qaeda and that we could find a common strength and courage in our natural virtues. In that rarefied moral atmosphere, it must have been almost impossible to resist the urge to follow the President blindly, first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq, since our new wars there had taken on the guise of a moral crusade against evil. Perhaps we could not have resisted – trauma had made criticism almost impossible. The moral landscape depicted to us by our President determined the nature of our response to 9/11. That war on terror, as a campaign against an imminent and destructive threat to the survival of America, ended in part because President Obama’s perception of global affairs is that of a level-headed realist. Nuance and pragmatism, rather than a crusader’s zeal, are the hallmark of his foreign policy.
But looking back on the Bush years and all of their conflict and turmoil, I find it harder and harder to rationalize the hatred that I felt for Bush in my early years. I cannot blame George W. Bush for the crises that he faced, or his worldview, his determination or his unshakeable sense of moral direction. Indeed, much good should have and did come of those qualities – recall, for instance, his initiative to arrest the spread of AIDS in Africa, which is estimated to have saved over one million lives through the widespread provision of anti-retroviral drugs. We could not have asked him to temper or repress them. We have instead ourselves to blame – if blame is indeed appropriate – for electing and re-electing such a man to deal with the world’s moral complexities from the most powerful political position on Earth. It is in that sense, then, that I regret that first vote of mine, cast merely thirteen years ago but in a wholly different political epoch.