Archive for Friday, January 16, 2009

Real Bush got lost in presidency

January 16, 2009


For 75 minutes, George W. Bush sat in a creme-and-blue high-backed chair in the Oval Office, answering questions that my Dallas Morning News colleagues, Todd Gillman and Lori Stahl, and I put to him about everything from 9/11 to bipartisanship to Texas politics to his new presidential library and institute.

He gestured with his hands, cast asides with his eyes, relaxed in his chair and explained his views with the same manner he did while a popular governor of Texas. Even down to the same kind of black loafers, he was the guy many Texans saw in Austin. Our give-and-take went far past the scheduled 45 minutes, as he twice waved off aides to keep it going. As he had years before, he usually responded with answers that would shock those who long ago swallowed the caricature of him as a lightweight. He gave reasons for his actions, understood why some took offense and showed none of the stiff-necked ideologue side that had become his image.

So, this: Can modern presidents, with all their handlers, scheduling and scripting, really reveal themselves to the larger public? Franklin Roosevelt did through fireside chats, but can we ever know the real guy anymore?

FDR’s day was light-years different. Even Ronald Reagan’s time, when he communicated well, differs vastly from today. News moves much faster. Media outlets have multiplied. And we journalists continue to play the role of filter between an administration and the public — sometimes well, sometimes not.

What Barack Obama has going for him is the Internet. I hope he succeeds in using it to reveal himself.

Like all of his predecessors, Bush didn’t get to choose the times in which he governed. This came through clearly in his remarks. “The great challenge for any president,” he concluded, “is to deal with that which is unseen, that which is unexpected.”

His times of governing were as consequential as any period since World War II, and he made critical mistakes in handling them.

He never recovered from his poor planning about Iraq, slow reaction to Katrina or inability to get Congress to reform immigration and Social Security laws. He allowed Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Don Rumsfeld to shift his administration’s tone from his collegial Austin approach, where Bush indeed was a unifier. He particularly erred by shamelessly letting his party use terrorism as an issue in 2002 to defeat such Democrats as Sen. Max Cleland, who lost his legs in service to our country.

He was forthcoming in our interview about not changing Washington’s tone and why his efforts to reform immigration and Social Security didn’t work. His answers were clear, well considered and frank.

He liked working with Ted Kennedy, but he couldn’t keep a populist prairie fire — that started with the Dubai ports controversy — from consuming any chance of passing immigration reform. And there was no crisis to get legislators to take the political risk of modernizing Social Security.

What will be interesting is how historians deal with his successes. Today, people brush past them, but they were considerable and consequential:

Keeping America safe from a post-9/11 terrorist attack. Measuring school results through No Child Left Behind. Giving seniors access to prescription drugs through Medicare. Creating a record number of community health centers. Presiding over 52 consecutive months of job growth. Pressuring Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Tackling AIDS in Africa. Responding to China and India’s engineering prowess through expanding math and science research. Responding with the surge in Iraq.

What I’ve liked about Bush since his early days as governor is how he swings at big issues. Hate him or love him, he doesn’t back down. He missed mightily with some swings but had courage of his convictions. And he usually approached his job with civility. Last week, he was genuinely excited about watching Obama sworn in as our first black president.

For whatever reason, these attributes — the ones I saw again last week — didn’t come through often in his presidency, and his administration suffered because of it. That may be the lesson Obama most takes away from his predecessor. Fight as hard as you can to reveal yourself.

— William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is


Richard Heckler 9 years, 5 months ago

Maybe the war on terrorism was a legitimate issue but not with 200,000 soldiers not knowing who the terrorists would be. Try a smaller international covert activity so that whoever the terrorists might be they won't see retaliation coming lke a lit up giant Christmas tree.There was nothing legitimate about the Iraq invasion,occupation and slaughtering thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings. Military generals did not want to go there for all of the reasons we see and hear about as we speak. I'd say Cheney,Bush,Rice and Rummy were wrong and lied as icing on the cake.

Poon 9 years, 5 months ago

Better then having a real president get lost in the bush I guess...

jafs 9 years, 5 months ago

I agree with Merrill.A friend who was in the Army said that the smart thing to do would be to send in an elite covert small group to take out Bin Laden.

50YearResident 9 years, 5 months ago

You could see the change in him soon after he took office when he started saluting people like he was a new 2nd Lieutenant and had a huge grin on his face while doing it.

jaywalker 9 years, 5 months ago

Pywacket,Holy smokes! Don't know whether to laugh or be seriously concerned for ya. Even if you're in the biz, you might be givin' too much thought to one word.

J2od 9 years, 5 months ago

Anyone who solely blames President George W. Bush for the war in Iraq is giving in to pop culture. Political morons like Eminem and Sean Penn have charisma, to be sure... but they don't have much in the way of personal accountability when it comes to wielding this charisma...Face facts: the President only has so much power, which is to say, there isn't much he can do that Congress can't veto... and Congress may not have "Yes! YES!! GO INTO IRAQ!"... but being complacent has the same effect as being supportive... so why not blame Congress, too? The entire Republican Party?If YOU want to hold people responsible, you could ALSO blame the voting public, who elected W into his SECOND term in '04. Blame the common American for actually thinking going into Iraq was a GREAT idea in 2003. Again, blame Congress for (according to some sources: actually saying "Aye!" to this in 2002.Heck, if you really think he was all to blame, SURE, BLAME W! BUT, if you're jumping on the bandwagon because you're an unquestioning liberal or democrat (the two descriptions ARE potentially mutually exclusive), and suffering from identity foreclosure (the unquestioning compliance with one's parents or social group), please, start thinking for yourself, you crazy, self-loathing sycophant!

jonas_opines 9 years, 5 months ago

"A friend who was in the Army said that the smart thing to do would be to send in an elite covert small group to take out Bin Laden."Yeah! Like in Rainbow Six! First-person shooters rock!Wait, are we talking about real life?

jonas_opines 9 years, 5 months ago

j2OD: I've heard, in the past, that the Executive Branch and the Presidency were created in the first place to give a singular face to make the system more familiar to those who were used to living under monarchical rule. If true, then it seems like it worked.

jonas_opines 9 years, 5 months ago

logicsound: You also strongly encourage us not to use the spelling "creme?" I'll agree, until a Brulee shows up, then we're set.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 5 months ago

"Why did this have to happen on my watch" George W. Bush"Somewhere in Texas, a village is looking for an idiot" xbus

blingazzizi 9 years, 5 months ago

"Our give-and-take went far past the scheduled 45 minutes, as he twice waved off aides to keep it going."seems odd to me that President Bush would get celebrated for the same mistake he made on 9/11... YOU'RE THE PRESIDENT, THERE ARE MORE PRESSING ISSUES THAN READING TO GRADE SCHOOL KIDS AND TALKING TO JOURNALISTS! I think this blatant disregard for the weight of the office he holds reveals all we need to know about President Bush

Satirical 9 years, 5 months ago

merril..."There was nothing legitimate about the Iraq invasion,occupation and slaughtering thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings."Please tell me you don't think American soldiers "slaughtered thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings." If so, then we need to have a discussion.

preebo 9 years, 5 months ago

He certainly was lost. I guess that comes from being completely unprepared for the office. He was in over his head from day one. On domestic policy, foreign policy, economic, environmental - in each area he caused more harm than benefit. He acts as if his only job was to keep America safe from terrorism, while that is paramount, it is not the sole providence of the President of the United States. Last I ckecked 7 years was the exact time span between the first World Trade Center attack in '93 and 9/11. So to hold that as his greatest accomplishment (ignore all the blunders) seems to be extremely disingenuous, dismissive, and maybe even delusional. He lacks the capcity for reflection to clearly see his presidency. He truly believes that history will judge him kindly; only time will tell. My guess, it will not be kind.

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 5 months ago

"Real Bush got lost in presidency"Oy! Please. There was and is no "real Bush". Chris Matthews hit the "real Bush" on the head on Countdown.

Confrontation 9 years, 5 months ago

The real Bush got lost? Do you mean the ignorant, drunk cowboy, who lived for mideast oil money? No, I think he was always here.

MyName 9 years, 5 months ago

Pilgrim:>Jimmy will be happy to know he has at least one misguided defender.No, I think you're completely ignoring the fact that Carter was a 4 year President! You can malign him all you like (he was way ahead on the energy issue and didn't bankrupt the country, which is something), but at least he had the decency to lose before he got a second term.

MyName 9 years, 5 months ago

J2od:>Anyone who solely blames President George W. Bush for the war in Iraq is giving in to pop culture.Hello? Maybe they're just looking at the fact that Iraq was a war that we didn't have to fight, that was pushed onto the American people by the Bush administration and pursued as much for domestic political reasons as security ones.Afghanistan at least makes sense. You want to go push the terrorists around and leave them without a secure base, but Iraq was a bad war fought at the wrong time, even if it turns out to at least be salvageable. For a fairly good assessment of the Bush Presidency:

MyName 9 years, 5 months ago

Bush lost the popular vote in 2000. So I'd say the American people have even more good sense than you give them credit for.In any case, there's no way that Carter's four years can be worse than the past eight years we've been through under W. It is my sincere hope that W. is the worst President we have for a very very long time.

jaywalker 9 years, 5 months ago

Pywacket,Make no mistake, I was in the biz for a while as well and fully understand the occupational hazard. When I first glanced at your piece it was the 'creme' at the end that caught my eye. When I saw the full extent it made me chuckle....and shudder from recall. My pet peeve was people, even English majors and journalists, using 'supposably'.I try to stay out of the word police game, though I have called a couple posters who annoy me on it when they make the same mistake repeatedly. I will correct some folks use of idioms or axioms; like someone posting 'wrap sheet' instead of 'rap sheet', or 'take a different tact' instead of 'tack'. But I think (or rationalize!) that's being nice, trying to help prevent further embarassment for someone in a more professional setting.In any case, you made me laugh. Needed that this morning. 'Preciate it.

Scott Drummond 9 years, 5 months ago

The article is nothing more than another fine example of the corporate media playing along with the republican's efforts to polish bush's post-Presidency reputation. The lying, cheating and stealing is mostly complete now, all they can do is start working on duping another set of voters to return them to power in a generation or two. Most of us who endured the bush years will not be swallowing the tall tale told above.

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 5 months ago

We will start to see articles attempting to separate the man from the party because it is necessary to resuscitate a spiritually dead political party. The smart guys that influence us how to vote are now working their manipulations on the electorate. Bush was the perfect prototype built on Conservative Republican Party values and beliefs of modern times. He was perfect because he was a great salesman and was absolutely loyal to the end.I feel sympathy for the real Bush because he believed in the system, the vehicle that had been built for him to drive but he was a product of that system, not the leader the world needed as President of the United States. So for us, he was a perfect experiment and test of the conservative view which ultimately crashed. The problem is was not the man, but the party leadership and their skewed view of the world. The only path is reform and change within the party itself. It must become more inclusive and tolerant of other points of view. You cannot build your platform on propaganda and fear mongering and not expect a negative result in the end. You cannot turn your back on the middle class and the working class and not expect the economy to begin to sink.

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 5 months ago

By the way, wasn't it a Dallas Newspaper that caused the stir over Darrell Arthur's grades as an attempt to challenge our right to the NCAA Championship?I doubt if the Dallas News is an impartial purveyor of truth.

KansasVoter 9 years, 5 months ago

So the Dallas Morning News doesn't consider the anthrax scare to be a terrorist attack? I'll bet that the families of the people who died would disagree with them.

Satirical 9 years, 5 months ago

Jayhawklawrence…The fact that you think G. W. Bush was a conservative Republican shows how little you know about conservatism.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 5 months ago

Good article. I think Bush was let down by his advisors.. Yes he made huge mistakes. But he has a spine made of titanium, and as the author pointed out, he has conviction, and stuck to that.This makes him more honorable and more of a man than his predescessor ever thought about being. And that's good enough for me. History will indeed be his judge. It will take time for all of the intelligence to come to light.I just wish he would have talked more openly to the people and defended himself more. His mistkes were errors of comisson instead of errors of omission, big difference. He tried and I respect him for that.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 5 months ago

aridne, or whatever. Bush flew an F-102. Get your facts straight.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 5 months ago

Also the F-102 was obselete. Their was no point in spending money to train him on a new jet when he was about to get out anyway. And during this time, immediatly after Vietnam. The military had more men than money. They needed to divest themselves of manpower due to Congress's cutting defense spending to the bone. It was a completely logical decision at the time to let him go. But hey, don't let "inconvenient truths" get in your way.

TopJayhawk 9 years, 5 months ago

aridne, or whatever.The F-102 was a fast long range over water interceptor to shoot down Russian Bear bombers far out to sea before they could drop nukes on the U.S. They were never used in Vietnam.Get your facts straight please.

lounger 9 years, 5 months ago

Slice and Dice it anyway you want but G.W. Bush was a class A Ahol

J2od 9 years, 5 months ago

Jonas Opines, ever hear of the War Powers Resolution? I've heard (in the past, of course) that this was a means for Congress to absolve itself of blame in the event of the President declaring war. HOWEVER, even then, Congress has the ability to STOP this action. See my previous comment regarding their permission for similar action in 2002. It is not my attempt to blame (or absolve of blame) W... however, it is not reasonable to blame only him, which so many are doing without reason or thought SIMPLY BECAUSE IT IS THE POPULAR THING TO DO.Just don't be surprised if Obama isn't popular in four years... just as it shouldn't surprise you that there are folks that voted for him even though they had no idea what his stance was on things:

J2od 9 years, 5 months ago

I wonder what Beobachter would've said to President Truman? Would he have applauded the saving of hundreds of thousands of American lives, despite the more than 200 thousand Japanese deaths?Concerning the American deaths in Iraq, the numbers are considerably lower than those in Viet Nam, Korea, World War II, World War I... Need I go back any further? Was Saddam NOT a turd to be flushed? Fact is, Saddam Hussein was a threat to justice; the majority of Iraqis are HAPPY to have us there (in fact, they're as ungrateful for the (essentially) welfare as our own indignantly unabashed DOMESTIC leeches, so well are they treated that they EXPECT the US government to do everything for them); and the majority of US deaths in Iraq have been linked to Al Qaeda or other "terrorist" idiots.I will say this, however: America just can't win. We're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't. If we attempt to "help" another country, we're "butting in" and "pushing" Americanism on that country (Serbia, for example, is VERY pissed); if we DON'T attempt anything in order to help, we're "remiss of our obligation". It sucks.But, then, isn't that always the way? Many a person wants the Government to stay out of his or her personal business UNTIL he or she needs the Government to fix a personal problem he or she caused!Luckily, Americans against the wars have learned their lesson (in Viet Nam), and won't be spitting on returning veterans this time around.I do wonder, however, how many folks would have appreciated and respected George W. Bush if he had said something to the tune of, "We're going over in an attempt to keep close contact with another significant fuel source," or "We wish to expand and solidify our reach in the Mid-East." Should we take on the stance of neutrality, like Switzerland? They don't pick sides, their economy is flourishing...C'mon, already! Everyone likes to talk in absolutes! Shall it be ALL... or NONE?

jonas_opines 9 years, 5 months ago

Oh, I've already thought the next few years through in a variety of ways, and any number of them show a weak president that gets knocked off in four years. Some of the other scenarios are different, of course.

J2od 9 years, 5 months ago

Aah, I see your thoughts are more aligned with mine than I thought...Honestly, it was kind of a toss up come voting day: Does on vote to the right or the left, or vote for one of the better but less-likely-to-have-a-chance-of-winning-AT-ALL candidates... and run the extremely likely risk of wasting a vote?That's the thing: Any candidate put forward by either the R or D party is likely to be an extremist, despite the fact that a moderate would probably appeal to the greater number of voters... so a third option would be nice. But with THREE candidates, a close race would still leave about 2/3 of the voters unsatisfied.Oh, what to do? If only a liberal Republican or conservative Democrat would step forward AND garner the support of his (or her) respective party!

J2od 9 years, 5 months ago

Reminds me of the man who's having a hard time with depression, and goes to see a wise man. Hearing the man's complaints of poverty and downtrodden times, the wiseman says, "This shall pass."Two months later, the man is overwhelmed with happiness. His perspective and attitude has changed, and he couldn't believe he was ever so down in the dumps. He goes back to the wiseman to share his rejoicing. "This, too, shall pass," said the wiseman.uhadmeatsmellthis (I LOVE that name, by the way!), when you have people thinking that Obama is going to pay their mortgages for them (, and others that voted Obama in for his pro-life, pro-war, Palin-as-VP stances (, one really has to ask, WHAT THE HELL?I pose this question: What's the difference between duty and responsibility? I think it's this: It is one's DUTY to vote; but it's one's responsibility to vote WELL. Let me further my thought by saying this: Voting on someone based on a demographic (including their political affiliation) is faulty reasoning. I can't tell people which way to vote, and I WON'T tell them how to use their vote... but when you have people voting FOR AND AGAINST a man based on the color of his skin... that's just absurd...

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