After the Dubyapalooza at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, a badly needed reassessment of former President Bush is underway. I offer my 2 cents at the National Catholic Register, based in part on what we covered at the time.
For space, I had to cut one quote which I often cite as my favorite quote ever in the Register. Our reporter at the Republican National Convention asked Bob Dole what he thought of George W. Bush’s faith.
Said Dole: “I think Bush’s faith is authentic, and that will be useful to us.” That says so much about the Republican establishment — but also about Bush.
In his interview with the Register, the future president’s was very much to-the-point: “I’m a pro-life candidate,” he said. “I’ve been a pro-life governor. I’m going to set the goal that all children born and unborn ought to be protected in law and welcomed to life. I will sign a ban on partial birth abortions. I will encourage adoptions.”
Thus began a stormy love affair with Catholics.
The rest of the article reminisces about some flashpoints from that first honeymoon year of Bush-Catholic story that I hadn’t thought about for a while:
Then in 2001 the storms came in late August, as they so often do, and the cyclone hit in September. Anyway, it was good to reminisce about the old days. And it was good to share some of the love at the presidential pow-wow.
I counted at least four hatchet-burying moments in Dallas.
First: the “Bush as divider” hatchet.
Bush was often mocked for saying “I am a uniter, not a divider.” That never made much sense.
But the kind words of the former presidents suggest they knew he was a uniter all along — Bill Clinton discussed Bush’s calls “just to talk politics,” Obama described the letter from Bush he found on day one in the presidential desk, Carter described how Bush helped him out. And of course, Obama praised him for his reach-across-the-aisle effort to promote immigration reform.
Second: the “war-monger” hatchet.
The National Catholic Register, when I edited it, certainly took Bush to task for his Iraq war decision — but even Cardinal Ratzinger gave an implicit green light to the Afghanistan war. And isn’t it odd that behavior (Google Libya, Guantanamo and “Kill Teams” for starters) that would have been be called “war mongering” 10 years ago is given a pass when Obama does it?
But the presidents graciously praised Bush’s efforts in Africa. President Carter went a step further when he gave Bush credit for more peace in Sudan: “In January of 2005, there was a peace treaty between north and south Sudan that ended a war that had been going on for 20 years,” Carter said. “George W. Bush is responsible for that.”
Third: The “Big Oil polluter” hatchet was buried. Or it should have been.
Though he was caricatured as pro-oil and anti-tree, Bush’s personal commitment to environmentalism is real and significant. He lives in a radical conservationist dream house in Crawford, Texas, that even Snopes agrees compares favorably to Al Gore’s house.
The AP reports that the George W. Bush library is like a green home away from home for the Bushes. It is LEED-certified platinum: as green as you can get. Many materials in the building came from within 500 miles of the site; a cistern will gather rainwater to water the plants, etc.
Fourth: Maybe even the Katrina hatchet was just a little bit buried.
Bill Clinton spoke joked about getting cozy with the Bush family – and revealed that he worked with them on Katrina. “You know, starting with my work with President George H.W. Bush on the tsunami and the aftermath of Katrina, people began to joke that I was getting so close to the Bush family, I had become the black sheep son. My mother told me not to talk too long today and Barbara, I will not let you down.”
Each of these was a small thing, but it was nice. I always liked Bush. I like anyone who is willing to stand for life against sneering opponents and gain ground.
As Obama put it: “To know the man is to like the man.”