Bush's Speech Was About Three Years Too Late
The former president got a lot right, but he also largely missed the point of the 2016 election.
A lot of commentary has been written and spoken about two speeches given on the same day last week by two former presidents using words seeking unity in our republic. Both speeches were rightfully compared and appeared to hit the same targets with pointed rhetoric. President Donald Trump and his agenda (legal immigration enforcement, the repeal of ObamaCare, tax reform and a strong military) won in November 2016, yet Trump and his supporters were the intended targets of words such as bigotry, racism, nativism and bullying. That, in a nutshell, is also why Trump won.
Despite the George W. Bush Foundation’s event in New York City being planned well over a year in advance, his remarks were not. The speech was a significant departure from Bush’s almost stone silence for eight years as Barack Obama fundamentally transformed America through weaponizing government and turning every policy disagreement into an argument about race and bigotry. Now “W” seems pretty comfortable rebuking those who seemed to threaten a doctrine of globalism with a heightened recommitment to American exceptionalism.
Let’s dissect the words of the 43rd president to see where he went wrong and also to give him credit where it’s due.
First, it’s mighty easy to engage in identity politics, whether from the Left, political center or Right. What America witnessed on Thursday was two presidents engaged in identity politics rather than a policy debate. As conservatives know all too well, once you’ve been objectified, marginalized or simply insulted, the other side isn’t looking for a response. That’s the standard operating procedure of the Left these days. America was surprised to find Bush, who suddenly found his voice after two terms of socialism, using the same lexicon of the Left, if for his own different reasons.
By that we mean what National Review’s Rich Lowry meant when he explained, “W. must be appalled by [Trump’s un-presidential behavior], given how he went out of his way to avoid adding unnecessarily to the nation’s political rancor and how deeply — and even, I’d say, sacrificially — he thought about the right way to conduct himself as president.”
Second, just as reliable as the Law of Gravity, when the press lauds a Republican, it’s because said Republican is parroting the exact same insults at the conservative base that come from their leftist talking points. Such were the almost interchangeable comments made by Obama and Bush on Thursday.
The Washington Post was jubilant in noting, “George W. Bush delivered an unexpected and rather eloquent speech against Trumpism and its offshoots on Thursday at a George W. Bush Institute event in New York.”
Now don’t get us wrong — Bush’s speech had some merit. He was quite right that America has benefited from free markets and global alliances and, in most cases, has led in each of these pursuits to achieve economic, national and political security. Yet we do live in a time of peril relative to our constitutional form of government. The United States should be the leader of the free world in modeling civil rights, sound elections, opportunity, education, national security and free and fair trade.
Bush was accurate to declare, “Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear. And we must take them seriously.” Trust in many public institutions, chief among them the U.S. government, has severely eroded over the last few decades for any number of reasons, among them the overreach in every area of our lives giving in to the power of special interests, corporate entities and even governments at the expense of the American citizen.
Bush’s own two terms as president seeded the conditions for Obama and, thus, Trump.
“W” was also correct in this proclamation: “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions — forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”
Somehow, The Washington Post didn’t see that part aimed at the Left.
America’s 43rd president was spot on saying, “Our identity as a nation — unlike many other nations — is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.” Yet, within the same speech, he perpetuated the false narrative that legal enforcement of immigration laws and protecting American citizens’ interests from the invasion of those who reject assimilation and have no such regard for civic responsibility is somehow equated with racism.
But let’s take the same Bush speech and hurl it into the atmosphere of 2014. What would’ve been the response of Democrats and the Leftmedia to such terms and statements then? George W. Bush will have to answer as to the reason he sat silent for almost a decade, but deduction and common sense tells us he refused to engage in what would’ve been repackaged as hate speech toward a black president or run the risk of having return fire from a hyper-partisan White House operation that held no punches in every turn to blame Bush.
So why the ease now? Remember when Bush made these statements when asked about his silence on Obama? “You won’t see me out there opining or criticizing my successor,” Bush said in 2010. “I don’t think it does any good. It’s a hard job. He’s got plenty on his agenda,” he said in 2013. “A former president doesn’t need to make it any harder.” In 2014 Bush asserted, “I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president; I think it’s bad for the presidency for that matter.”
In 2016, Americans elected an unconventional leader who spoke to the issues of greatest concern to the working class. The political, polished governing class missed it … for decades. Now, those same leaders, attempting to govern in the same manner that was rejected in 2016, are using identical terms to silence an unapproved leader, his agenda and its supporters.
Maybe the best standard to measure Liberty is to see which of these policies — those of the established ruling class, filled with contempt of Trump, versus those of the Trump agenda — actually do open free markets, provide for national security, confront the war on terror and reduce the size of a malignant government.