Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, April 27, 2013.
On Thursday, President Obama and four former presidents stood on the stage in Dallas on the occasion of the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of SMU. The dedication of the Bush library has set me thinking about the Bush years and affords the opportunity to offer some personal reflection.
Full disclosure. President Bush and I attend the same church. In the years before he left to be governor, we would spend a few moments with one another on most Sunday mornings. I am not, by any stretch, a Bush family insider. But he did give me a special code word to put on envelopes that marked them as personal mail. Over eight years, I wrote him letters – mostly as an act of support – and he graciously answered.
The thing that always comes uppermost to my mind is that during his eight years, I constantly wished that the American people could meet the guy that I talked to at church and who penned the hand-written answers to my letters.
George W. Bush is one of the most genuinely personable men I know. Not politician personable — in this line of work you can spot those guys from a mile off. I’m talking warmly, genuinely personable – an affable guy with a sparkling sense of humor.
That guy at church was at ease and conversant. Without doubt his biggest weakness as president was the fact that little of that came through when he was behind the lectern. Speechmaking is George W. Bush’s Achilles Heel. On a good day President Bush would get through a speech in journeyman fashion. On too many occasions, he made the jobs of the writers at Saturday Night Live all too easy.
I cannot prove but will always believe that every important decision during his presidency – from the invasion of Iraq to the “surge” to the TARP bailout — was made because George W. Bush believed, ahead of any political calculus, that it was the right thing to do. He often suffered withering, many times grotesquely unfair criticism. My criticism of him is that he was too slow to answer those critics. His desire to stay out of the mud too often allowed those down in the mud to define him.
Despite those who glibly call him a dunce, George W. Bush is no such thing. He knew he was taking huge political risk going into Iraq and he did it anyway – because, whatever the ultimate verdict, he at the time thought it was the right thing to do. That takes the kind of courage we guys like to describe in male anatomical terms – something in short supply among today’s politicians.
Since President Obama was on hand for the library dedication, a little comparison seems inevitable. The comparison rather favors President Bush.
For the abysmally low approval ratings that President Bush had when leaving office, four and a half years on, the approval ratings enjoyed by Presidents Bush and Obama stand virtually tied.
When President Bush left office the ratio of national debt to Gross Domestic Product stood at what seems today a sedate 38 percent. That number has since doubled to 76 percent.
While the costs of Obamacare continue to escalate, Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit passed under President Bush, is costing taxpayers 35 percent less than forecast – making it the only federal entitlement ever to cost less than predicted.
Save for the brief mild recession following 9/11 during Bush’s term and the 2010 bounce back from the horrendous numbers of 2009 during Obama’s term, both of which are aberrations, the best year of economic growth under President Obama is not as good as the worst year under President Bush.
And, since taking office, and despite hot campaign rhetoric to the contrary, President Obama has left in place most of the mechanisms created by President Bush to combat terror.
True to his character, President Bush has very graciously chosen to keep his opinions to himself since leaving office. If he were to choose otherwise, there is plenty he could say.
I would love to hear that guy in church just out and say it.