As George W. Bush prepares to leaves the White House after eight misunderestimated years, National Review Online asked a group of experts in policy and politics to assess his presidency.
I appreciate President Bush for many things. He took great care with the issue of stem-cell research. He was steadfast on “life issues” in general. He withdrew the U.S. from the ABM Treaty, allowing for greater progress on missile defense (vitally important).
He chose Dick Cheney as his running mate, and he became vice president. He made some staffing mistakes, Bush did, but he also named some excellent people who were thought to be “untouchable,” because of their “hard-line” stances. I think particularly of Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich, and John Bolton. Two of those men required Senate confirmation. They didn’t get it, blocked by Democrats. Bush gave them recess appointments.
He defeated two men who would have been lamentable in the Oval Office: Al Gore and John Kerry.
In 2000, he grabbed “the third rail of American politics,” running on Social Security reform. He did so again four years later. He tried for this reform, but the country was not ready. It will be someday, when it has no choice. Bush tried to solve another big, stubborn issue: immigration. I was on the other side from him (i.e., I was anti-amnesty), but I admired his willingness to tackle the problem, rather than have it shoved under the rug for another chunk of years.
He nominated excellent judges, including his two on the Supreme Court. He was widely derided for his nomination of Harriet Miers (later withdrawn). He still insists she would have been an excellent justice. Who knows?
He looked the central evil of our time, Islamofascism, in the eye–and did not flinch. He knew we had to go beyond law enforcement and intelligence gathering: that we had to pursue what amounted to another cold war (which, as with the first, would of course include some hot ones). He removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, effacing two of the worst dictatorships known to man.
And he did what was necessary in the area of “homeland security,” as it came to be called.
He was a friend of Israel, a nation that is virtually friendless, and that deserves friends. He realized that Arafat was a liar and a terrorist–and Arafat had been the most frequent foreign visitor to the White House during the previous eight years. He thought enough of Arabs and Muslims to think that even they deserved freedom and justice, instead of tyranny.
He was a friend to Cubans, who are often friendless–Cubans and Cuban Americans have called him “the first Cuban president”–and he did not forget Chinese political prisoners, even as he dealt with Beijing, as all presidents do.
He showed immense personal charm, ease, and sympathy. When talking to a New Orleanian who had fled to Utah after Hurricane Katrina, he said, “Were you the only black man in Salt Lake City?” When a citizen flipped him the middle finger, he turned to the man sitting next to him and said, “Not a fan.”
He took a tremendous amount of abuse, particularly from elite opinion, and did not buckle. Neither did he lash out. He showed tremendous personal grace, as during the recent shoe-throwing incident in Iraq. He could be a real cool cat, this president. He has his faults, as everyone knows: They have been well gone over. But what has not been well gone over is that he is kind, decent, honest, principled, devout–and full of love.
I’m very glad he was president.
– Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review and the author of Here, There & Everywhere.