More than seventy years ago, an American clergyman visiting London, England told Winston Churchill that he had the perfect epitaph for Adolf Hitler from an Old Testament Scripture: “I will make thy grave; for thou art vile.” (Nahum 1:14 KJV) The Prime Minister replied, “Hear, Hear!” The epitaph seems appropriate for Bin Laden, as well.
But instead of inching toward center stage, which would seem to be the typical response of a political animal, George W. Bush has determined to maintain his low profile. This is because of something that many of his detractors would never ascribe to him—humility.
George W. Bush, a humble man? Yes. Confident? Sure—cocky at times? You bet, although unlike some politicians it is not likely he was comfortable seeing himself as the smartest guy in the room. Underneath it all is a sense of propriety, the kind of thing ingrained in a person from youth. Remember his father, George H.W. Bush, and the unwillingness to gloat or grandstand while Soviet communism collapsed across a continent? Frankly, the Bush family has a lot of character and class.
Sure, during his time in office there were statements born of bravado, including that famous “mission accomplished” stunt, but Bush’s post-presidency has been a peaceful self-imposed exile. I think it highlights the real possibility that W. might not be a political animal after all.
Most people aspire to office because they want to “be” something. A few, in contrast, seek leadership roles in order to “do” something—and when that job is done, they move on with their lives. In my opinion, George W. Bush wanted to do something. He had already arrived at who he was.
Much of what was criticized for eight years as arrogance might be better described as bold decisiveness. Unlike his successor, George W. Bush was quite comfortable making decisions in a “Truman-esque” kind of way. History will ultimately judge whether particular decisions were good or bad, but he had no problem making them.
And he has no problem relinquishing that role to another, even if that means the credit due him falls to someone else. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that decisions were made and the job was done.
The record will continue to bear out that the clock began ticking for Bin Laden in the hours following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Bush started that clock and made decisions all along—to engage the enemy, to pursue leads even via controversial methods, and to set up a mechanism to bring those he always referred to as “evil doers” to justice.
And it means that President George W. Bush’s legacy is secure when it comes to issues of national security. It also means that he doesn’t need a photo op to prove it.