Sat, 17 Jan 2009 21:39:56 +0000 – By John AvlonAuthor, "Independent Nation"
History will be kinder to President Bush than the American people are feeling at the end of his term. The fact that we have not been successfully attacked since September 11th, 2001, will not always seem as inevitable and in-due-course as it does to many Americans today.
What was left unaddressed in both the final address and the final press conference was serious consideration of why President Bush was ultimately unable to unite the country in the wake of massive attack.
The key paragraphs to me:
"The battles waged by our troops are part of a broader struggle between two dramatically different systems. Under one, a small band of fanatics demands total obedience to an oppressive ideology, condemns women to subservience, and marks unbelievers for murder. The other system is based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God and that liberty and justice light the path to peace.
This is the belief that gave birth to our Nation. And in the long run, advancing this belief is the only practical way to protect our citizens. When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror. When people have hope in the future, they will not cede their lives to violence and extremism. So around the world, America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity. We are standing with dissidents and young democracies, providing AIDS medicine to bring dying patients back to life, and sparing mothers and babies from malaria. And this great republic born alone in liberty is leading the world toward a new age when freedom belongs to all nations."
That tri-part riff at the center of the paragraph -- "human liberty, human rights, and human dignity" -- should have been used more to sum up the moral authority at the heart of the president's vision.
And he was right to acknowledge mistakes (obliquely in this address and explicitly in his final press conference), especially incidents like Abu Ghraib, which undercut our aims and claims.
What could have been added was the number of specific attempted terrorist attacks on American soil which have been stopped since September 11 -- at least 14 by documented accounts. That number provides the kind of indelible evidence that detractors deny -- that the war on terror is far more than a bumper-sticker, as John Edwards suggested.
What was left unaddressed in both the final address and the final press conference was serious consideration of why President Bush was ultimately unable to unite the country in the wake of massive attack. His message of compassionate conservatism in the 2000 campaign was precisely on target as a vision for re-centering the Republican Party and uniting the nation. It was a promise that was unkept, in part because it was not taken seriously by too many professional partisans and conservative operatives. The abandonment of fiscal responsibility by Tom Delay's Congress -- unchecked by Bush -- has contributed to the GOP's lack of clear definition in the current fiscal crisis.
Future leaders will need to learn the lessons of Bush's mistakes -- but they will also need to learn from his successes, and history will eventually strike the right balance.