Fri, 16 Jan 2009 03:00:10 +0000 – By Jon Kraushar Communications Consultant
George Bush has said a farewell to the nation but his critics haven't said farewell to him.
Ask yourself what kind of president could be vilified like this?
"Third rate...a coarse, vulgar joker...a liar...a buffoon...a tyrant...the most dishonest politician that ever disgraced an office...intoxicated with the maddening cup of power...every act filled with deception...without merit of any kind...a tyranny utterly regardless of all moral considerations, trampling under foot all the guarantees of a written Constitution...to be pitied ...[his cabinet is] by far the weakestthat has ever been called to administer the Government of the United States...trying with all his might to understandstrategy, naval warfare, big guns, the movements of troops, military maps, reconnaissances, occupations, interior and exterior lines, and all the technical details of the art of slaying..."
Actually, those were criticisms of Abraham Lincoln when he was president.
Perhaps it is worth pondering to what extent leadership is a popularity contest.
Lincoln presided over a viciously divided country during a seemingly endless, bloody, unpopular war that made his leadership highly controversial in his time. During the Civil War, Lincoln's suspension of civil liberties likehabeas corpusand his declaration of martial law --used to try terrorists-- made many of his critics apoplectic. But then Lincoln was martyred by his assassination. In assessments of the greatest U.S. presidents, historians count Lincoln as either number one or two, next to George Washington.
Harry Truman, another wartime president, left office less popular than George W. Bush (the taunting expression back in the late 1940's was "to err is Truman"). Yet historians today rate Truman as one of our top ten presidents.
Lincoln arguably overrode the Constitution and the law to do what he felt had to be done to save the country and Truman approved the dropping of atom bombs on our implacable enemy, Japan. Both of those were extreme measures but they sent a message that a president had an unbendable will to use overwhelming force to crush whomever and whatever threatened the United States of America.
Bush fought his critics not only over the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also over his advocacy of wiretapping, military tribunals, tough interrogations and detention and imprisonment of combatants and suspects.
Bush is no Lincoln, nor is he a Truman, and mainly what he shares with Washington is his first name and that both were president. Bush's tenure has been riddled with its share of major mistakes and miscalculations--even he admits that now. A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll about Bush found that 75 percent of Americans "feel his departure is coming not a moment too soon."
But after he departs, if various sentiments and sensitivities cause a relaxation of our defense efforts and our enemies strike at the soft spots created by our lapses of vigilance and aggression, there could be a sudden reconsideration of George W. Bush, who put in place a security infrastructure aimed at crippling and crushing terrorism.
In his farewell address Bush said, "We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard."That's a message that could have been spoken by Washington, Lincoln or Truman. It is also a message directed to President-elect Barack Obama.
In any case, give Bush time--perhaps several years, perhaps less. Then let's see if this president who kept our country free from a terrorist attack after 9/11 isn't given a welcome that is far warmer than the frosty farewell many people are giving him now.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is atwww.jonkraushar.net.