One would have to be deaf, dumb, and offline not to know that today is Barack Obama’s 100th day in office. I’ve been wondering what I might say about that without simply reiterating what many others are saying. I was accused by a good friend recently of being mean-spirited about the former president, George W. Bush, which got me thinking about some of the things I really liked about the man himself. So I’ve decided to honor this occasion by saying some nice things about Mr. Bush. (That hasn’t been done for awhile.)
First, I will always be grateful to Mr. Bush for his calm, steady leadership in the days following 9/11. While so many of us were speechless with horror and confusion, he exuded an air of confidence and unity of purpose. He articulated our national grief and determination not to be defeated. He was the father figure we all instinctively yearned for; we craved the reassurance of hearing him speak, the symbol of our identity as a nation. He inspired us then.
On May 1, 2003, when Bush stepped out of a fighter aircraft that had just landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and took off his helmet, what an awesome gift he gave the American troops. He clearly meant to make a gesture that would honor their achievement and give us all a sense of pride after a time of staggering fear and uncertainty. At the time, I thought it was very cool to see our fit and confident president claiming victory in the war zone. We had little reason to believe that success wouldn’t be swift and unequivocal, as it was in the first Gulf War. It was only in hindsight, given the wrong turns that occurred later in the course of what became a long and tragic conflict, that people began to mock him for proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished.”
Despite the anger that I and many other Americans felt by then, I couldn’t help but like George Bush the day he and his wife, Laura, welcomed the Obamas to the traditional inaugural luncheon in the White House. For just a moment, I got a glimpse of them as just an American couple, gracious and hospitable despite being caught up in a time of forced change.
Even after I came to despise much of what his administration represented, as well as some of the people who helped to shape his destiny, there were times when I had to like Bush the man. With his sometimes boyish, self-deprecating humor, he appeared to really like people. Even when I no longer believed much or all of what he said (although, in all fairness, I think he did believe a lot of it), I sometimes had to admire his turn of phrase.
I was unnerved to learn recently that one of the local colleges is now teaching a three-part series of courses in U.S. history, and the text book for the third quarter starts after I was born. I’ve been around long enough to know that history can be very fickle. I don’t know what history will have to say about George W. Bush. I sincerely hope some future Republican Party, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of today’s, won’t succeed in creating a revisionist image of him, canonizing him posthumously as they did with Ronald Reagan (another really likable guy, as I recall). But it would be nice if he could at least go down in history as a man who meant well.