It has been basically a known fact among the media that George W. Bush does not care for reading newspapers or the barrage of opinion columns that now seem omnipresent in this age of the Internet media. I really can't blame him.
So when in early December I wrote a "Dear Mr. President" for my national Creators Syndicate column about what a great First Lady Laura Bush has been, I did so noting that it was merely a vehicle for making my point. After all, Bush doesn't read media, right?
Wrong. Really wrong. Last week, I received a handwritten letter from President Bush expressing his thanks.
It's poor form to disclose any communication with a sitting president. And I don't want to exploit what was clearly a very kind gesture by the president. My purpose here is to reflect on what other possible myths and misconceptions we in media (and we across America) may have about this soon-to-be ex-president.
Bush made it clear to me in the letter that editorial columns do reach the Oval Office and that he does read many of them. So that myth is broken.
But what about the general perception that he has been a president unwilling to do things any way but his own? That he's a president unwilling to admit mistakes or change course?
In some very revealing interviews during his last weeks as president, Bush has made it clear that the intelligence he was given on weapons of mass destruction was in large measure wrong. That's a bold and introspective comment coming from a man who, understandably, would seek justification for the war in Iraq.
Now is the time for those who have been critical of the Bush Administration -- at times, myself among them -- to question ourselves: Did President Bush fail this nation, or did those tasked with serving him and the nation fail in their own right?
For example, it wasn't George Bush's desire to turn a blind eye to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Instead, he was let down by those he relied upon to provide him with the accurate information needed to properly respond to the catastrophe. By the time Bush realized their shortcomings, it was too late.
On the housing market crisis, representatives of the Bush administration pleaded with lawmakers to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac long before things got out of hand. You should read the transcripts and hear the words of members of Congress as they mouthed off and stereotyped those giving warnings from the Bush Administration as being both generally misguided and downright racist.
And when the nation's financial institutions were crumbling, I am convinced that only President Bush really understood the emergency need for action to stabilize the situation. In his typical droll style, he warned leaders that "this sucker might go down."
Liquidity was freezing up, but more importantly, confidence in our nation's financial institutions was declining so quickly that most of them would have lost almost all of their investors had not drastic action been taken. You can bet Barack Obama knows that now. It is clear through his comments.
Has the bailout been implemented properly? I made my thoughts clear about that in my last column. But again, the point is that a president delegates duties to those he trusts. If they choose to operate in a secretive and ineffective manner, then it is they who have failed, and not the president.
As a pollster, I can't honestly write a column saying that George W. Bush is now viewed as a successful president. What I can say is that many of the current concepts we have about this president may prove, as time passes, to have been incorrect.
One thing I do know is that since 9/11, no major act of terrorism has happened on American soil. I am guessing we will come to learn just how hard the president worked to keep the nation safe. And President-elect Obama recently said that this is the most important priority for a president.
Every time I have written a column even slightly kind toward President Bush, I have been bled to death with the cuts of a thousand objecting e-mails, often from conservatives who normally agree with my opinions.
So I'll end with a simple public response to President Bush's kind letter and say, "Thank you, Mr. President." And as years pass by, it's my guess we might be thanking George Bush more than we can imagine today. Not for any letter he's written, but for his service to our nation. Time will judge.