What will George W. Bush be remembered for? If, as Clare Boothe Luce argued, every president gets just one sentence in the history books, then President Bush's will certainly concern the war on terror and Iraq. His historical reputation will wax or wane based entirely on how well Iraq does in the coming decades. That's the ball game for Bush, historically speaking. And yet, as recent news about student test scores reminds us, a poignant aspect of this president's two terms is his unrequited love for blacks and other minorities.
Many black readers will laugh at this assertion. No president in recent memory has been held in lower esteem by black voters than George W. Bush. Reagan and H.W. Bush were perceived (despite their best efforts) as uncaring at best. Bill Clinton was adored. But from the beginning, George W. Bush was painted as the devil by many black leaders. It's remarkable that this was so, considering Mr. Bush's steadfast and unwavering interest in the poor and minorities, but there it is. When no other opportunity for tarring President Bush presented itself, his detractors seized upon Hurricane Katrina as the catch basin for all the free-floating bile against the president.
Remember the way George W. Bush first campaigned? He was the "compassionate conservative." He visited so many black churches he could have applied for membership in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He telegraphed early and often that if elected he'd choose Colin Powell for Secretary of State (and that was only the beginning of his promotion of blacks and Hispanics to high office -- he might as well have believed in affirmative action). He boasted (en Espanol) of his excellent record winning the votes of Hispanics in Texas. He lamented the "soft bigotry of low expectations."
And he meant it. On his second day in office, Bush invited the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus to a meeting at the White House. His two signature domestic policies were the No Child Left Behind education act -- a reform whose entire focus was on narrowing the achievement gap between blacks and Hispanics and other children -- and the faith-based initiative that was aimed at helping all of those who for one reason or another fall into economic or psychic woe. As his former speechwriter Michael Gerson recalled, "He [wa]s deeply committed to the idea of helping the poor through community and faith-based institutions."