That’s the headline of the cover story of NEWSWEEK‘s May 14 issue in which writer Evan Thomas waxes poetic about the iconic status of the president who ended World War II in the Pacific and about how today’s field of presidential candidates “all want to be Harry Truman.” No offense, Evan, but it was an easy piece to write: “Simply hop on the bandwagon of public opinion — as revealed in polling numbers, of course — and trash President George W. Bush. There. Done!”
I decided to offer a different take on the issue by fast-forwarding my readers to the year 2059. In the piece below, I reflect on how journalists, historians and politicians of the future might wax poetic about the 43rd president of the United States:
The ‘W’ Primary
May 12, 2059 – They all want to be George W. Bush.
Republican Presidential Candidate Chelsea Clinton invokes his iconic sign — “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” — as she calls upon Congress to increase funding for things like border security and national defense.
One-time-liberal presidential candidate Barack Obama, 97, reminds us that Bush was the first politician bold enough to declare a War on Terror.
Historians cite the fact that, although Bush was unpopular in his day, Americans literally owe their nation’s existence to the fact that Bush stood up to Al-Qaeda and their ilk after Sept. 11, 2001: “Who knows how much longer the United States might have survived?”
As we all know, the stereotypical politician of 50 years ago was carefully calculating and keenly attuned to what was possible, especially in the areas of political self-preservation and campaign fundraising. Today, the savvy politician is more concerned with maintaining a viable defense industry and impenetrable borders. To win votes, he strives to be more like the man everyone called “W”.
In 2009, when W left Washington for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, few were unhappy to see him go. His administration was accused of being “in bed” with “Big Oil” (i.e., the companies involved in exploration, refinement and delivery of fossil fuels) and of sending soldiers to war based on “bad intelligence” and his desire to help his friends in the military-industrial complex of the day. Yet, as years passed, his stature grew.
Today’s candidates remember W in their stump speeches for his willingness to stand up to the wishy-washy, poll-following opponents of his day, members of the now-defunct Democrat Party. His sense of personal responsibility loomed large in an age of blame-passing. Love him or hate him, he made the tough calls, often courageously, and history has rewarded him for it.
Buffeted by decades of war against Islamic fundamentalists, Americans today seem hungry for a W-esque figure – a truth-telling, bare-knuckled president who will give it to us straight – at a time when radical Islamic governments rule the entire world outside of our heavily-militarized borders. The question now is whether anybody in the 2060 field can measure up.
Though he may have thought he was following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill when he ordered the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, later, Canada and Mexico, many vocal Americans at the time characterized his so-called “show of resolve” as more foolhardy than wise. Now, we know who was wise.
Real courage, W-style, is not worth much if it is unaccompanied by judgment, realism and faith in the one true God. It’s also about learning from – and facing up to – your mistakes. W had the right stuff — or should I say, “Wright Stuff”.
Hopefully, one of the candidates in today’s field will have the Wright Stuff, too.