A circumspect George W. Bush appeared on NBC with Matt Lauer reviewing the major difficult decisions of his consequential presidency on 11/08/10 recounted in his new book Decision Points which opened today on Amazon.com at #1. It is no surprise to anyone that the former president states on multiple occasions that personal popularity meant little to him in determining the course of major policy decisions. In a strange way it seems to be almost a source of pride to him that often the tough decisions seemed to be generally unpopular ones. The tide of history certainly exposed his presidency to more than the usual profound moments and for the most part I think he believes he stayed true to the ” right course” for the country.
The pivotal moment was clearly 9/11 and on this pinnacle of crisis essentially all of his decisions radiate outward. His explanation for the emotion that formed a backdrop to his speech on the world trade center rubble is a riveting piece of history. Almost as wrenching is President Bush’s description of the burden of serving as commander in chief in consequential times resulting in the deaths of over 4000 servicemen. He relates the story of the Chapman family, who he met at a service for their fallen son among many others. President Bush noted that after the service, Mrs. Chapman brought him a note that read, ” My son did his duty, now go and do yours,” a buckling, emotional moment. His visible attachment to the memory serves as an undeniable view into the sincerity of his motivations in the actions he took. President Bush sleeps well at night with his conviction that what he did was in the service of his country’s best interests and security.
Equally interesting is the focus on the Hurricane Katrina natural disaster. The former president is clear that the perception of the national government refusing to provide troop support and security was a false one. The governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans dithered for days on whether to invite in federal troops, and the president was hamstrung without a state invitation. The federal government would have had to declare an insurrection to put in the military without an invitation and that would have clearly led to an explosive situation. He is clear, also, in his contribution to the sense of presidential detachment to the tragedy, and admits it almost single handedly brought his functional presidency to an end in the public purview of him as a leader. Not one of his finer moments, and certainly not one of Louisiana’s.
The consensus of the interview is the sense of the former President that he did his best and did what he thought was right. It is certainly a presidency that will require more than a few years to absorb the extended impact of George W. Bush’s decision making. On so many fronts, from defining western civilization’s response to the violent challenge of radical Islam, to the introduction of elemental democratic freedom to the autocratic Middle East, to destructive assault on free market mechanisms in the TARP legislation in order to “save’ them, and surviving the closest election in American history with the capacity to lead intact, this has proved to be one consequential presidency, and one consequential man.