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Guest Editorial: Tom Roeser
December 13, 2010

Bush Book Interesting but Gooey and Wilsonian
by Thomas F. Roeser
fitzgerald griffin foundation

Decision Points

CHICAGO, IL — George W. Bush’s book Decision Points is interesting because he lets readers share the pros-and-cons of his decisionmaking but shows the glitch in thinking that ruined the GOP for a time—and may do so again. This is so-called “moderation” that is supposed to neutralize liberal and media criticism. More of that later.

The book is twofold — gooey and Wilsonian — with one major exception.

The exception is “W’s” firm support of pro-life values, including his courageous handling of the embryonic stem cell issue. In what is probably the best chapter, he goes into his laudable study to determine what to do. Not covered in the book — which puzzles me — is probably his finest hours in support of life, namely, his appointments of John Roberts as chief justice and Sam Alito as an associate justice.  He refers briefly to the bad mistake of nominating Harriet Miers to be an associate justice; after social conservatives raised hell at this nomination, she withdrew herself from consideration.

Bush does not explain how he mysteriously failed to understand that she was a lightweight with no informed views on jurisprudence, even though her contributions to political liberals should have tipped him off. In all, social conservatives can pinch themselves that through happenstance they got two brilliant conservative justices. Before he thought of Miers, Bush would surely have appointed his favorite, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but Gonzales ran into trouble when he submitted a list of U.S. attorneys who reportedly were not sufficiently political in their prosecutions and he subsequently resigned under fire.

Otherwise, running throughout the book is that gawd-awful concept of “compassionate conservatism.” Three examples.

One. Supporting “No Child Left Behind,” the hideously expensive education excursion, designed to woo soccer moms. Bush was suckered by Ted Kennedy, who was willing to give more concessions to Idealist George such as vouchers but wasn’t asked to because “W” was edified that he was working with the blowsy old stentorian phony.  A “compassionate country club express” got him nothing but criticism from the Left.

Two. The ill-conceived multibillion-dollar prescription drug benefit allowed him to demonstrate “Republicans-are-also-liberal.” He tried to show the media and voters that the GOP could be just as profligate as the Democrats. Not surprisingly, liberals gave him no credit — only criticism that he did not spend more.

Three. The nonsensical Immigration bill supported by McCain which charted amnesty for illegals. It didn’t make it and, further alienated millions of conservatives to boot.

The book is not a chronological review of the administration — only certain “decision points.”  This approach bypasses the need to refer to other mushy-moderate residues of the “compassionate”  country club — his signing of the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold bill; his signing of the anti-business Sarbanes-Oxley bill that put the financial industry in irons; his failing to veto any bills in his first term; and his adding 100,000 new federal employees. In addition are the return of expensive farm subsidies that had been ended by Reagan, and the pork barrel spending in cooperation with the Republican Congress, which hit a record $29 billion, four times higher than the 1994 level. Each one could be identified as an attempt to buy favor with special interest groups via taxpayer dollars — probably as result of the importuning of Karl Rove on a willing country-club president.

In foreign affairs, Bush wallowed in Wilsonianism. He went all wobbly about the epidemic of AIDS in Africa where he had no business directing taxpayers’ largesse to the cause resemblant of High Church Episcopalian philanthropy. A president has to be guided by his head in fiscal prudence and not allow himself to use government monies whenever he gets weepy. Fighting AIDS should be the job of the churches and private sector foundations.

In fact, weepiness, lumps in the throat, and tears run in rivulets all through the soggy book. When a president commits troops to the battlefield, it should be to protect the peace and liberty of the United States. Period. That has got to be the only justification to be used for action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, we read that, although no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found, nevertheless getting rid of Saddam Hussein may have justified the war because he was a tyrant to his people and a mass murderer.  Wrong.

Saddam was a tyrant all right — but that is not why a president sends American youths to war. God knows there are now and always have been in power tyrants abusive to their people. We have no business charging in as Sir Galahad — a Dudley Do-Right type of international police force. I once alienated a Jewish woman who was with me on public radio by challenging her statement that the Holocaust enough was justification for going to war with Hitler.  “No ma’am,” I said, “atrocious as it was. We went to World War II because we were attacked by Japan, after which Hitler declared war in solidarity — and it had nothing to do with the Jews.  Nor should we have gone in for the Jews.”

How awful, she said.

“Not awful, ma’am,” I replied.   “A president has no right to send troops to war to rectify injustice — else we would be engaged in wars perpetually.” 

Nor do we have the right to go to war to make other nations convert to “democratic principles.” None at all. Too much of Bush’s book — far too much — makes him look like a naïve Eagle Scout president. I hope but am not sure that Eagle Scoutism did not propel us to Afghanistan and Iraq. If this could be proved, I would be with the paleos. But I don’t think it was.

What has convinced me is not Bush or Cheney but Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis who says that even though WMD weren’t found, Bush saved us further terrorist attacks at home since it was the first time we shoved back on Islamic terrorism.  Because I believe Lewis is right, I applaud Bush’s decisiveness. 

But aside from the WMD issue that fooled everybody, if we went in to dethrone Hussein because he mass murderered Kurds (no matter how repugnant), or because Hussein tried to assassinate Bush’s father who is an idol to “W,” the decision to commit U.S. troops would have been unjustified and immoral — and I’d be on the street-corners passing out leaflets.  So…

The reason I ‘ve supported Iraq is that I agree with Lewis. Even so, there is so much gooey sentimentality over the senior Bush in the book — although intriguingly the assassination plan doesn’t get mentioned — that I suspect without proof it may have been one cause. But as I have no proof and do respect the fact that under his tenure the homeland was spared after 9/11, I shall give him a good mark for decisiveness in pushing back.

In brief, Bush, though gooey and sentimental, is a firm Christian and patriot.  I have no confidence at all that under the Big Zero (Obama) we are being as adequately protected from our enemies as we were under Bush. It is clear from O’s many statements that he is neither Christian nor patriot, but a mysterious third-world alien and a cipher endowed with Sidney Poitier drawing room manners.  

We can easily do better in 2012, but we must not return to “compassionate conservatism” ala country club moderation. To those who want to see Jeb Bush saying he’s the best of the Bushes, I say he may be. Yet I, for one, have had enough of Kennebunkport to last the rest of my lifetime.

Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Roeser. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thomas F. Roeser is radio talk show host, writer, lecturer, teacher, and former Vice President of The Quaker Oats Company of Chicago. He was both a John F. Kennedy Fellow (Harvard University), and a Woodrow Wilson International Fellow. Tom Roeser is the author of the book, Father Mac: The Life and Times of Ignatius D. McDermott, Co-Founder of Chicago's Famed Haymarket Center (2002). Long-active in Chicago politics, Mr. Roeser is Chairman of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, a grassroots organization of Catholics.

© 2010 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation