Understanding Bush

It is always amazing how those who ought to be educated and well-read enough to know better cannot seem to understand President George W. Bush. It is not simply a question of agreeing or disagreeing with him, many just can’t understand him well enough to appreciate what he is saying. Perhaps it is because many are a little too cynical, sophisticated, or “realistic” to understand. Bush is a traditional American, while many in the so-called chattering classes are post-modern Americans.

When the president delivers a speech, the elites can sometimes tenuously grasp at Bush’s thinking. Bush’s ideas are intrinsically American and harken back to the thinking of the Founders and these sentiments sometimes can be translated by speech writers for the learned classes. However, when Bush answers questions at a press conference, he speaks more directly from his heart. Sure, in his sometimes bubbling way he can garble his thoughts, but other times his words peal out with simple direct tones that should pierce even the intellectual fog that obscures much of Washington. The world views of Bush and the press and others are so different that communication is inhibited.

It is viewed as arrogance by some, but the United States was born with a conviction that the American Revolution represented a fundamental break in the history of mankind. It was not that America would become a new imperial power to replace the old, but that the American example, if Americans could make it successful, would become a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, a shining city upon a hill.

The United States was explicitly born with the conviction about the nature of man and government, embodied in the most cited phrases of the Declaration of Independence:

“they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

How then could the press and punditry not see an evocation of this theme when Bush claimed at his recent news conference, “I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.” How can so many be so blinkered as to not at least recognize the allusion to our founding documents?In response to a query by the press about whether there had been sufficient leadership from the White House, Bush explained that “…there’s an historic opportunity here to change the world … A free Iraq is going to be a major blow for terrorism. It’ll change the world.” Why does this not recall to everyone’s mind Thomas Paine’s somewhat more poetic and direct assertion in the pamphlet Common Sense, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” The reference is not veiled or obscured, it is simply ignored and overlooked by those who are so focused on their views that the obvious blurs into the background unobserved.

It appears hard for many to recognize even more modern allusions in Bush’s rhetoric. George Bush reaffirmed American commitment to freedom when he avered “…as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.” In much the same way John F. Kennedy proclaimed American commitment to freedom. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

For so many, Vietnam was the defining experience of their youth. Hence, everything is viewed through that prism. Now that there have been in Bush’s words “tough” weeks in Iraq, everyone is focused on that characterization because of its evocations of tough times in Vietnam. Press reports and commentary constantly cite Bush’s characterization “tough”, as they indeed should. At the press conference he used “tough” or variant eleven times and there was emphasis on the difficulties in Iraq.

However, he also used the words “free” or “freedom” 52 times. He even extemporaneously used the rhetorical device of amplification when he explained the constructive consequences of a free Iraq:

“A free Iraq is vital because 25 million Iraqis have as much right to live in freedom as we do.

A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East.

A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace, as we’ve already shown in Kuwait and Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America’s word, once given, can be relied upon, even in the toughest times.”

Now Bush may be foolish or wise in his emphasis on freedom. He may be hopelessly unrealistic or faithful to the founding vision of America. However, these questions are not considered because these words and words like them lay about largely unreported, ignored, and unnoticed.

During the press conference, Bush was asked if he had “failed in any way to really make the case to the American public?” Well sometimes to hear a case, we all have to listen and pay attention.

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