Politics & Policy

George W. Bush, Liberals’ New Hero

George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton at the Trump inauguration. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
They now extol him, for ‘sounding like a member of the Resistance.’

When George W. Bush speaks, liberals are sure to react. But then Bush defended freedom of the press in an interview with the Today show’s Matt Lauer:

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need the media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.” The 43rd president also said that “we need all the answers” concerning possible Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 presidential election.

In a separate interview with People magazineBush decried the country’s political toxicity, remarking, “I don’t like the racism and name calling.”

Liberals reacted very differently to George W. Bush than they ever have before. Here’s a sample from Twitter:

Star Trek icon George Takei: “You know things are bad when George W. Bush starts sounding like a member of the Resistance.”

Former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom: “I am typing these words: President George W. Bush is right. Freedom of the press is ‘indispensable to democracy.’”

Glenn Greenwald: “2005: George W Bush is a pillaging, torturing war criminal who let a city drown.

2017: I may have disagreed with Bush but he was A Good Man™.”

Jedd Legum, editor, ThinkProgress: ”When did George W. Bush become a voice of reason?”

It wasn’t so long ago that liberals routinely claimed that Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that he had had advance knowledge of 9/11, and compared him to Hitler.

These developments remind me of Mark Twain’s apocryphal quote about his father: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Could it be that liberals have finally grown up? In the case of George W. Bush, liberals are astounded at how much he’s learned in eight years.

Now liberals aren’t the only people who are taking a different look at President Bush. Conservatives who once fiercely defended Bush are now looking askance at him while worshiping at the altar of Trump. Laura Ingraham tweeted: “George W. Bush doesn’t criticize Obama in 8 years, yet takes thinly veiled swipes at @realDonaldTrump 6 weeks in. #LowerEnergy.” Well, Donald Trump’s swipes weren’t so veiled when in February 2016 he proclaimed that, if elected, “you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center.” So now that Trump is in the White House, who do Ingraham and other conservatives think were responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001?

But there has been conservative discontent with Bush for some time now. Liberal praise for Bush is something new under the sun. Perhaps all those years he has spent painting portraits in relative silence during the Obama administration has softened liberals’ feelings toward Bush. Perhaps they are learning how a real demagogue acts. Perhaps they are learning that George W. Bush was never the fascist, racist, or Nazi they thought.

Of course, President Bush has always supported the freedom of the press that comes with liberty. It is easy to forget how much time President Bush devoted to the topic of liberty in his second inaugural address, on January 20, 2005:

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies. . . .

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty — though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

Of course, these words were uttered at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and of Lebanese resistance to Syrian occupation. The hope of democratization in the Middle East was in the air. Sadly, liberty remains in short supply over there and seems sorely out of fashion over here. But the idealism that drove Bush’s desire to spread liberty in the Middle East is the same idealism that has led him to defend freedom of the press. Could it be that President Bush has stayed the same while liberals (and conservatives) have changed?

Yet chances are that liberals haven’t learned anything. We’ll know they haven’t if they start praising President Trump when another Republican sits in the Oval Office. On the other hand, there’s probably a better chance of seeing liberals one day praising President Trump than of him praising the press as indispensable to democracy. 

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