The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Most Powerful Person in the World


I am feeling something this week for The Decider (aka George W. Bush) that I have never felt before, an emotion that I never even expected to feel. In the midst of an economic downturn verging on depression, with two fronts in an ill-begotten war, and with his approval ratings lower for longer than any president since the statistics have been kept, The (Soon to be Retired) Decider sat down for his first "exit interview" with Charles Gibson. As I watched, I imagined what how it must feel to know that you are at the end of the road as the most powerful person in the world, and I felt compassion for him.

Now, as usual with The Decider, there were gaffes, the most hilarious of which being this one:

"When the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over, y'know, a decade or so -- before I arrived as president, during I arrived as president."

Who says "during I" anything? And who doesn't fix such a verbal misstep when one hears it? How do you just let that go? Oh yeah. I forgot that when you're the most powerful person in the world, you don't have to be self-censoring. But oddly it seems that Soon-to-be-former Pres. Bush is becoming more self-critical in the waning days of his final term.

For years now, as his contemporaries have judged him and found him wanting, Bush has depended on the judgment of history to redeem him. He has relied on the idea that while his policies may anger or even outrage the generation he serves, generations-to-come will look back on his presidency with respect and admiration, especially with regard to his foreign policy. Now, however, he has had to come to terms with the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And nothing about the backward glance from ages to come will change that fact. He actually seemed humbled, especially when Gibson asked him would he have gone to war had he known that there were no WMDs.

I'm convinced that what The Decider is finally coming to terms with is the fact that his deciding days end on 20 January 2009. (Actually, they've already ended; Rachel Maddow does call him the "lamest duck" after all.) He won't control the White House. And he won't control how his legacy is judged. To hear him tell it, he's not even going to control where he and Laura live next. It's all up to her. Listening to him, I felt compassion.

Nothing about the world as I have experienced it makes it likely that Bush will take my advice, but I am going to offer it nonetheless:

Mr. President, take a page out of the book(s) written by the best human being ever to occupy the White House. Don't tell me you don't know who that is, and no, I don't mean George H.W. Bush. I mean James Earl Carter, known by all as Jimmy. To say the least, Carter's presidency was not one for the history books. But his life and witness post-presidency is what he will be remembered for; it's also what he won the Nobel Peace Prize for. Although your days as the most powerful person in the world are nearly over, with God's grace, you have a lot of living left to do. Use it for good. Your history is still being written.

12 comments:

Revvy Rev said...

You are right! If pride has truly turned to humility, then the failed presidency does not have to be the last word or final chapter of GWB's life story. He still will be in a position to do much good.

Moonbeam said...

I was with you until you got to Jimmy Carter being the best human being to occupy the white house....I you lost me there...

Leslie D. Callahan said...

Moonbeam,

Who, with the possible exception of Eleanor Roosevelt, has been a better person than JC? One doesn't have to agree with all of his positions to recognize that he has acted with integrity and done much good.

Leslie D. Callahan said...

Besides, the larger point was about Bush. Did you agree with my advice to write a better post-presidency?

Moonbeam said...

ok. So, I assume then from the comments that we are differentiating between someone's actions during their presidency and post-presidency? Because JC's management of this country led to high taxes, long gas lines etc etc etc.

I must admit though I can not speak much more about him out of fairness to him because all I know about him really are from snippets of news reports about what he has said or done and so I don't want to make a value judgment based on those reports -- so I don't know how good of a 'person' he is.

To be honest I try not to make value judgments on who is or who is not a good or better person. We all make mistakes. Many who may mean well do bad things and some bad people on occasion do good things. I try to see the best in everyone, because I think ultimately, there is some good in everyone.

And, frankly, I am not swayed that much by how the international community embraces or doesn't embrace someone. So, JC's recognition by others is not a measuring stick for me.

What I do agree with is that Bush does have an opportunity to do good post-presidency. He can still leave a positive legacy depending on how he chooses to lead his life. It is never too late -- I firmly believe that.

The sad thing is I think Bush did think he was doing the right thing. I think one of his key problems related to when he revealed that he did not read the papers or follow the news, I think, because he thought maybe they were biased or he did not want to be swayed by them. However, without reading the papers and watching the news, you don't know or understand the perspective that perhaps the public has on things -- he clearly had not realized when gas prices were pushing $4/gallon.

I think his main problem was that he clearly isolated himself too much and listened only to those around him. I also did not like the actions of some around him -- unlike what he said he would do -- there clearly were strict litmus tests for appointments in his administration (I saw this first hand).

But, you can kind of see now, when you see him in press conferences, that he seems to be starting to get that. I hope that is a true indication that he will use his position, post-presidency, to do good in our country and the world.

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