U/MIAMI NEWS SERVICE
The inauguration not only marked the beginning of a new era in American politics by swearing-in Barack Obama, but the ceremony also ended George W. Bush’s tenure in the Oval Office, much to the delight of most present at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20.
Roughly 30 minutes after the benediction, former President Bush’s helicopter could be seen flying away, leaving the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and a world of contempt behind.
He would not attend any celebratory balls. Instead, Bush spent his first night away from the White House at his ranch in Texas like a ruler banished from his kingdom.
While many of the problems we face with the economy and the war in Iraq can be attested to the Bush administration, no one person deserves all this guilt and hatred.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton regally strode down the U.S. Capitol steps on Inauguration Day, each wearing some degree of pride on their sleeves. But
Bush was downtrodden and beaten. He seemed more vulnerable than a wheelchair-bound, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Bush certainly does not deserve all the blame. His administration, however, does.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, political strategist Karl Rove, Cheney, the leadership in the CIA, the list goes on. All made mistakes during the last eight years. Bush’s mistake was to appoint these people and to continuously listen to their advice.
Bush was not the first president to have a rough tenure in office. His strategic mistakes, however, were compounded by his inability to talk his way out of his missteps, making him an easy target for criticism from the media. Bush’s lack of eloquence made his speed bumps look like catastrophes.
President Obama, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a master of oration. He has the cunning and wherewithal to dodge potentially loaded questions, and to euphemize troublesome situations. Bush was not blessed with this gift.
Instead, Bush is blessed with compassion, honesty and integrity. He is known to write personal letters to the families of those killed in action in the Middle East.
But Bush and his administration committed the cardinal sin of messing around with people’s money. Americans have less than they do eight years ago, or at least it appears that way, and no amount of Bush’s down-home demeanor could hold back the flood of scorn crashing toward him.
Americans also do not like blaming large groups of people. Rather, they want to direct their oaths and curses to one particular person because it is easy. Head coaches in sports are often the first change management makes when the losing begins, because it is far easier to fire a coach than it is to remake the roster of players.
Bush, in a lot of ways, is that coach radio talk show listeners love to tear apart after a particularly poor game, even though his team continues to let him down.
Many will call Bush “the worst president ever.” That is unfair and a product of the recency effect. Andrew Jackson oversaw the “Trail of Tears” incident, William Howard Taft was basically inept,
Calvin Coolidge did not do a great job avoiding the Great Depression, and Richard Nixon was banished from office. George W. Bush was not a good president, but he is certainly not the worst president ever.
Time will tell what exactly President Bush’s legacy will be. As for now, let’s say Bush was a simpleton who advanced to a position for which he was unqualified, but he is a nice guy with whom you would not mind taking in a football game on a Sunday afternoon.
The animosity toward him needs to stop, and, as Americans, we need to find it in our hearts to forgive him (if you feel he has personally wronged you) and let him ride off peacefully into that Texas sunset.
Michael North is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Miami.