“I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.”
Individual, human perspective is such a quirky thing that it’s quite difficult to get a group consensus on anything more political than how we’re all going to set our clocks. Here we are, as a nation, about to inaugurate a new president who has, from his very first announcement of his intention to seek the office, purposefully and calculatingly portrayed himself as the new embodiment of Abraham Lincoln, while at the very same time we bid farewell to the current president, who has reminded me more of the actual Lincoln than any other I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Clearly, we have very divergent perspectives at work here.
George W. Bush is the seventh president I’ve watched in action, and of all the other men who’ve held the office, he seems to have been the most like Lincoln. On many levels, actually.
From the very beginning of G.W.’s presidency, with the vituperative campaign to dis-entitle his election, the nation was torn apart emotionally, if not formally. Abraham Lincoln’s election with a mere 39% of the popular vote was the impetus for Southern secession and the formation of a temporary, but absolutely separate nation on American soil. In very short order, Lincoln faced the Confederates’ firing on Fort Sumter.
President Bush had been in office a mere seven and a half months when al-Qaeda carried out its long-concocted plan to bring down the Twin Towers and strike the heart of our nation’s capitol. For a very, very short time, it seemed that our United States would rally and come together for what promised to be a protracted fight against the global forces of terror that emanated from the Islamic world. But that unity was so short-lived that it is now but a vague recollection, briefly restored each year for anniversary solemnity.
A mere ten days after our generation’s day of infamy on 9/11, President Bush gave an address to both houses of Congress, in which he declared America’s intentions. His quite eloquent summation included this determined proclamation:
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.
From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. Our nation has been put on notice, we’re not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security.
On October 2, 2002, President Bush received from Congress the 22-point Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Force in Iraq, a quite formal, simple, straightforward resolution of war against the Hussein regime. In March of 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom was initiated, with vast public support. Less than eight months later, Democrat Fat Cat George Soros told a Washington Post interviewer that President Bush’s words above, “for us or against us,” reminded him of “Adolph Hitler and the Nazis,” words he heard as a child in Hungary.
From that point onward, the anti-war, anti-Bush zealots in America began to resemble Lincoln’s own wartime nemeses, the Copperhead Democrats. From Lincoln’s first declaration that he intended to save the Union from dissolution, angry factions within the pro-slavery opposing party denounced him vociferously in the press. A number of northern newspapers, controlled by the Copperheads, incited draft riots in major cities, while claiming Lincoln’s murderous intentions toward the Constitution. Lincoln’s wartime suspension of habeas corpus and his locking up suspected rebel leaders in the border states without trial, caused his lynching in effigy in many a northern township.
Just as Lincoln saw his generals mess up and his troops mired in defeat again and again, before finding his Grant and turning loose his Sherman, George W. Bush endured the seemingly never-ending bog of Iraq until he found his Petraeus. As the Iraq war magnetized the struggle with Islamic terrorist groups worldwide, and they came to take their stand in “Bush’s war,” victory seemed as distant and as completely unpredictable as did Lincoln’s own in the middle years.
From very early in the Iraq war, when it became obvious that the mission was not going to be accomplished without supreme determination and conviction, the press turned against the president. His every move — wiretapping terrorist suspects, sending prisoners to Guantanamo, the practice of rendition, the Patriot Act — everything the man did became a cause celebrated by his political enemies. Even though President Bush has survived to the end of his second term alive, and not assassinated (movies don’t count) as was Lincoln, he is leaving the Oval Office every bit as much maligned as was his fateful predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.
Just as Lincoln persevered very much alone throughout most of the Civil War, so has George W. Bush in his time of war. Fighting foes from not only without, but also within, plagued both men. It was Lincoln who wrote in his time of war, “I think the Constitution invests its Commander-in-Chief with the law of war in time of war.” G. W. Bush had to have taken some solace in these words while he fought his own battles for necessary wiretaps and military tribunals, even as the ACLU and the New York Times openly accused him of trampling the Constitution.
The writing of history is every bit as quirky as individual human perspective. George W. Bush may very well acquire the near-saintly remembrances inspired by Lincoln at some future date.
I doubt sincerely that I’ll be alive to see that, if it should happen, but I do know that as I watch Barack Obama’s swearing in, I’ll be reminded that it takes a lot more courage, conviction, and character to actually earn one’s likening to a former great president. It takes far more than hailing coincidentally from the same state or using the same Bible for the oath. And for ill or good, George W. Bush has earned his comparison to Lincoln in his darkest days of solitude in the same Oval Office.
I shall miss the man — G.W. — and his stalwart character, even if I stand entirely alone in it.