PARKER: The Bush I knew

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker

In a reprieve from the horror of the most recent terrorist attack, the nation's attentions turned to the man who declared war on terrorism, George W. Bush.

During Thursday's dedication of his library at Southern Methodist University, nary a word was spoken about the most controversial aspect of his tenure, the Iraq invasion. All living presidents were in attendance and made only generic references to mistakes and regrets familiar to all. Of course Bush famously acknowledges no mistakes or regrets, but rather bequeaths judgment to history and self-doubt to those of lesser conviction.

This observation, though true, is not the whole story of Bush, however. Nearly everyone who has known Bush up closer than a video clip has a different impression of him than what is more popularly accepted. The arrogant, swaggering caricature of the 43rd president was mostly a shield. Bravado of the "bring 'em on" variety was more personal jab than foreign policy statement, though one suspects Bush enjoyed the sound of tiny feet scurrying to keyboards in search of deeper meaning.

Obviously, what a president says and does is fair game for criticism. The way Bush chose to express himself was the way he would be perceived and judged. To act arrogantly is to be arrogant in the public eye. To speak awkwardly is to be awkward.

But in private, Bush was a very different man. In small groups, he was articulate and confident. When the cameras were off, he was relaxed and natural. Not everyone is made for TV, and this is no criticism. It can be a deficit for public figures, but people who are at one with lights and cameras are sometimes better actors than statesmen.

Everyone is familiar with Bush's history and performance. What I offer is an anecdote or two that I think reveal what the cameras and critics could not. These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of rounding out a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won't be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes.

July 2007: I have just written a eulogy for a friend who has died in a car crash when I am summoned along with about a dozen other journalists to meet with the president. His director of media affairs, Jeanie Mamo, meets me at the security gate, sees my bloodshot eyes and, having read my column, says how sorry she is. I start babbling something about how I wouldn't have come except, and she interrupts: "Except that he's the president of the United States."

Yes, that's it.

Once in the Roosevelt Room, Bush circles the room, shaking hands with each person, coming to me last. He gives a hug and says, "You're not alone. I'm right there with you."

Somehow I managed not to burst into tears. After the meeting he returned to give me another hug, whereupon I asked a favor. Would he write a note to my friend's son? Absolutely. In the Oval Office, he asks the boy's name. Jackson. He writes: "Dear Jackson, I know your heart is broken. I will pray for you. Sincerely, George W. Bush."

More or less. Unfortunately, I failed to copy the letter before delivering it to the son at my friend's funeral.

I tell this story because it should be part of the public record of this president, not least because such gestures were not rare. Bush often met privately and without fanfare with the families of fallen soldiers. He often visited the wounded without anyone's knowing. He really did feel others' pain.

During a one-on-one interview on Air Force One, I asked him about his hardest days as president. He rejected the question as irrelevant. The hardest day of his life was seeing his father lose re-election, not because the Bush family needed more time in the Rose Garden but because seeing his father, "this great man," suffer was so painful for the son.

Every president (thus far) is also just a man, which is to say, human. His frailties and flaws are in plain sight, every gesture a potential weapon of self-destruction. For reasons that are perhaps a characteristic of our untamed nature, we seem intent on elevating presidents only to bring them down.

Thus it was with Bush, who, our favorite cartoons notwithstanding, was more than a composite of swagger and smirk. He was also a kind man with a gentle heart who should be remembered as such.

Email nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/kathleenparker.


JV 2 years, 4 months ago

A very thoughtful write up. There is plenty that was wrong about the Bush administration. But, President Bush was still a class act. You never heard him blaming other past administrations. He took principled stands, made decisions on the best advice and data at hand and lived with the consequences.


Jan 2 years, 4 months ago

Obviously you have significant memory loss. The Bush administration tried to blame Clinton for 9/11, but then it came out that the Bush administration ignored warnings presented to him and his staff by the Clinton staff. Under Bush, these leads were not followed. His Administration also tried to blame Clinton for the failing economy He backed off on this as it became obvious that the economic erosion was accelerate under him. These are just two prominent examples. Do a little digging and you will find others.


kevin 2 years, 4 months ago

who in the Bush administration? Besides, don't the Liberals blame Bush for stuff even to this day, 4 yrs after our country fell apart?


NewsReader 2 years, 4 months ago

...and the wind blew, and the BS flew, and there stood Jan!


kevin 2 years, 4 months ago

This article should have been posted in the GDP on the same day our joke writer, Mr. Robinson, wrote attacking Bush at the Library celebration. Obama will have his "library" in 4 yrs. It will be a two-story bathroon, the perfect place to dump his lies. Ha! First time in American history we are being run by someone that doesn't know how to lead, but is fabulous at dividing a country.


Haughton 2 years, 4 months ago

Ms. Jan, the obvious problem for BHO is that he has failed at attempting to lead our nation for 4 years and constantly used GWB as his excuse for failure. I gather that you thought his Internship as our President was successful, so you gave him another 4 years to do nothing but blame GWB? I do believe that BHO is WINNING the game of BLAME on previous administrations. The only thing you are remotely accurate on is that every administration looks behind them and blames their mistakes on the former.

I agree with Kevin that your selective memory loss should come into question when even more Americans scorn BHO at the dedication of his "library". BHO has enough street vendor memorabillia to help an entire 3rd world country care for their children.

Georgians should have a bit of pride in knowing that our home grown President Carter is rising from the near bottom of presidential failures. BHO loyalists are turning on him as we speak.



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