W, it's complicated

Salena Zito
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Posted: Nov 23, 2008 12:00 AM
W, it's complicated

Texas Gov. Rick Perry tells a story of a conversation that he had with his predecessor George W. Bush five months after both men took office, it occurred in June of 2001, shortly after the president had his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Perry explains that typically a Bush conversation is pretty quick to the chase, asking about his wife and kids and good-bye. But nearly forty minutes later Bush is still on the phone asking about who got the best of who in the Texas state legislature and catching up on all of the intrigues of Texas politics.

Perry says the homesickness was obvious in the president’s voice and as the conversation ended Bush said to him, “Hey Perry, remember that conversation we had in the governor's office about 18 months ago when I told you being the governor of Texas was the greatest job in the world?”

“Well, it is” Bush told him.

In the end as in the beginning much of the story of George W. Bush is that he really a Texan. He would really rather be in Texas than Washington. It is his home, his comfort zone. He considers Washington cold and cruel and Texas warm and genuine.

“More than that, he knows the issues in Texas” said political scientist Rob Maranto explaining that while in Washington Bush always had to stretch, often getting things wrong.

Bush found Texas Democrats, who are often center-right, casual, friendly, boisterous, trustworthy, and easy to work with, very unlike Washington Democrats.

“Bush has good instincts, good strategic vision” said Maranto, “he knew where he wanted to take the country, and many of his ideas made sense. His problems came in the tactics, in the execution. Because he personalized policy he kept on loyal subordinates even when they had screwed up royally, while firing those seen as competent, but more independent.”

As Bush’s shadow grows shorter around the halls of the White House and the world and excitement shifts toward President-elect Barack Obama the business of the White House must still go on.

The late Tony Snow told the Trib in an interview in 2006 that Bush “has a clock that tells you how many days we have left in the administration”

Then the White House press secretary Snow explained that Bush had told every cabinet secretary to think about everything they could do between now the end of “our” time in office.

“It will be a sprint to the finish” said his outgoing secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff in an interview last week.

Chertoff says that history will judge this president favorably, “He had big challenges under his watch and he never walked away from a challenge, he never said let me make this the next guys problem.”

Knocking on wood Chertoff says that the president had done what was considered unbelievable seven years ago, “which is kept this country safe for seven years.”

America’s relationship with George W. Bush is complicated.

He came into office haunted by a chorus of “stolen election” verses thrown at him only to then suddenly be vaulted to the forefront of the greatest tragedy to hit the soil of our country.

He was our hero in immediately sending our troops to Afganistan; he became our divider over Iraq.

His nomination of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the nation's highest court were solid, too bad they followed Harriet Myers, Katrina and the Social Security Road Tour.

Here are two of the president’s problems, first he is not all that flexible, when he makes a decision he makes a decision, he is not comfortable revisiting decisions. In the right circumstances that is decisiveness and steadfastness, but in the wrong circumstances it is just plain stubbornness.

Second, Bush personalizes policy to too great a degree, as when he claimed to have looked into Vladimir Putin's soul and found goodness.

Maranto says those flaws really came out in Iraq. “Basically Iraq destroyed the administration, had Iraq gone well in the first year, rather than now in the fifth year, Bush would be 25% higher in the polls and we would be looking at President John McCain not Barack Obama” explains Maranto.

In time we will come to focus on the many Bush successes, No Child Left Behind, terrific policies toward Africa and Asia, and yes only a fool cannot note that we have not been attacked in the past 7 years. Despite the focus on the economy and domestic issues keeping us safe is what will be President-elect Barack Obama's greatest bar to meet when it comes to Bush.

There have been many claims that under Bush that conservatism has died that may be a stretch.

For a long time conservatives had it right on so many things: taking a hard line against communism, fighting crime, free trade, and welfare reform. What has crippled conservatism is that they were unable to see when they were wrong, a lot like liberals in the 1960’s.

Bush thought if he could just out-Reagan Reagan, all would be well. Unfortunately, he wasn't flexible enough to change course when that turned out to be wrong.

As Chertoff ends his interview I ask him if being the president is a lonely job.

“Yes, it’s tough, it’s a tough job.”