Paul  Kengor

Last Wednesday evening, I witnessed a remarkable event, which is being misreported and misperceived—from the Drudge Report to the White House—in antagonistic ways I plainly didn’t see. I shouldn’t be surprised, since it involved George W. Bush.

It was the 104th annual event of the Erie-based Manufacturer & Business Association, which attracts top speakers from all over the world. June 17 was no exception, as Ralph Pontillo and his staff brought in the 43rd president of the United States.

As president, George W. Bush was, of course, widely disregarded for his oratorical shortcomings. His failure to communicate his core message, especially regarding his Middle East vision, was central to his record disapproval.

And yet, Bush was magnificent last Wednesday. He spoke with no teleprompter and few notes. After formal remarks, he reclined in a leather chair and answered audience-supplied questions. It was Bush unplugged. I can’t do justice to all that was said. I’ll share a handful of items not getting the wider attention they deserve:

Referring to post-9/11 America, Bush calmly conceded, in a refreshingly frank manner: “I’m surprised we didn’t have another attack.”

We should all be surprised. Credit for that colossal accomplishment—Bush’s first priority after 9/11—goes to this president, who got little thanks.

Speaking of ingratitude, the unpopular ex-president didn’t whine about how he was poorly treated, and acknowledged he doesn’t sit around “psychoanalyzing” himself. Besides, he suffered something worse: He said it was far harder watching his father get attacked as president.

This was telling. George W. Bush idolizes his father. He talks of the “unspeakable” reassurance of the “unconditional love” of his father, which he compares to the unconditional love of his “heavenly father.” After watching his dad absorb arrows for four years, only to lose to Bill Clinton, the shots he took for eight years were easy.

Besides, said Bush, he can look in the mirror knowing he didn’t “sell his soul” for political gain. He always did what he felt was “morally right.”

The George W. Bush presidency was truly the sacrificial presidency.