Perhaps the most generous thing you can say about former President George W. Bush is that at he’s a better person than former President Donald Trump, although that’s a dubious compliment that you could give to a majority of Americans, however slim that majority might be.
Trump, in fact, is largely to blame or credit for the recent ascendancy of Bush.
By comparison, President 43, as opposed to President 45, seems like the companionable and proverbial guy with whom you’d want to sit down and share a beer.
And that’s why Bush’s appearance at Monday night’s Distinguished Speakers series’ inaugural event at the Terrace Theater will likely be met with enthusiastic, but not rabid, applause and quiet attention.
Bush shows up at memorials, funerals and other events that former presidents are expected to attend (such as inaugurations); he’s friendly with Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres; as president he accepted a record number of refugees and asylum-seekers; he extended federal pension benefits to same-sex couples. Perhaps those meritorious acts played a role in catapulting him from his 33rd-best president to 29th in C-SPAN’s latest polling of 142 presidential historians—still not a loving endorsement, but comfortably better than of Trump who scored 41st, just three spots away from the basement; he’s considered the worst in 150 years.
But don’t let a few rays of righteousness lull you into an overly warm feeling about Bush. A gentle reminder: The World Trade Center terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people during his administration. For the remainder of his terms he bragged that no significant terrorist attacks occurred in its wake—although that one kind of counts.
He launched the war on Afghanistan, which lingered on for another two decades. He lied to the country about evidence of weapons of mass destruction in order to rationalize our invasion of Iraq in what seemed to be an exercise in global machismo.
In his 2003 State of the Union address to Congress and the American people, he intoned with practiced solemnity, as if letting us in on a secret or telling a scary story around the campfire: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And off to war we went.
And during those intractable wars, Bush’s administration did nothing to discourage, rather it outright encouraged, “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding and much worse, as the horrific and insane acts of torture that were gleefully practiced in the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad showed. Even Richard Clarke, Bush’s top counterterrorism official, accused Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a 2014 interview, of committing war crimes in their 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Much of the bungled and barbarous activity for which Bush can be blamed was due to the actions and dark intentions of his self-anointed Vice President Dick Cheney, who profited mightily from the wars and was sneeringly unapologetic about the use of extreme torture, but the buck truly does stop with the President. Ultimately, the tragedies and mistakes all accrue to Bush.
And wait, there’s more: Bush’s inept response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina didn’t even rise to the level of set-shooting paper towels to the victims of the flood, which struck Louisiana during the president’s month-long vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He did manage to witness the storm’s damage from Air Force One in a public-relations flub that emphasized his botched response to the disaster, which wasn’t at all helped by his appointment of Arabian horse aficionado Michael Brown to head FEMA, a job Brown mastered as well as you would expect from an Arabian horse aficionado. A Republican-led special Senate report later concluded that the Bush administration failed “at all levels to plan, prepare for, and respond aggressively to the storm.”
And Bush, too, was the boss during the 2007-2008 market crash—the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression—that plunged the country and the world into a long recession.
Bush has been outspoken about Trumpism in recent days. Speaking on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to a crowd in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers forced one of the terrorist-commandeered planes to crash, Bush compared the attackers to the Capitol rioters of Jan. 6, terming both “children of the same foul spirit.”
That remark furthered some revisionist affection for Bush, as if denouncing Trump absolved Bush of all of his misdeeds, which shouldn’t be forgotten or forgiven so easily, or at all, his ill feelings toward Trump notwithstanding. It doesn’t make him a hero, even by comparison.
As late-night host Seth Meyers has commented, “You can criticize a bad president without praising another bad president.”
Bush’s talk Monday night at 8 is the kick-off for the Distinguished Speakers program. Others scheduled to speak at the Terrace are endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (Nov. 8), reporter and author Bob Woodward (Jan. 24), historian Douglas Brinkley (Feb. 14), Comedian and talk-show host Jay Leno (April 24) and Nobel laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai (May 16).
Seats are for series subscription holders only and range from $210 to $615 for the series.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.