So George W. Bush is a good guy now?
One wonders how many Americans had a queasy feeling in their stomachs last weekend when the 43rd president spoke at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Although Bush did sign the bipartisan (!) legislation clearing the path for the construction of the museum, attendees would have been more than justified in booing him off the stage; it took amazing grace for the audience to show respect to the man who abandoned people of color in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Remember the “Miss Me Yet?” billboard that apparent Bush loyalists put up in Minnesota in 2010? It’s creepy to think that the answer seems to be “Yes,” and that Bush is now getting a pass because Donald Trump has proven to be such an ass.
Yes, Bush didn’t embrace white supremacists on the Internet, didn’t bash Muslims and didn’t deny human-caused climate change. However, just because he wasn’t as much of a degenerate as the Donald doesn’t mean Americans should suddenly turn a blind eye to the wrongs he committed from January 2001 to January 2009.
People died and suffered because of this man. People had their careers destroyed because of this man. This can’t be scrubbed from history, or from memory.
That Michelle Obama is nice to Bush is a testament to the First Lady’s deep dignity, nothing more. Obama’s embrace of Bush is a visual example of Christian forgiveness, a gesture of love and peace towards someone who, by all rights, doesn’t really deserve it. Of course, those of us who aren’t Christians will view that image with more cynical eyes, and wish that Obama had thrown some shade towards a man who, for eight years, neglected people of color. (I can’t imagine Shirley Chisholm ever hugging Dubya.)
It’s highly unlikely that Bush is really bothered by the rise of Trump. Perhaps he predicted that the Republican Party would become so right-wing that it would produce a candidate who made his sins seem minor by comparison. Bush, who likes to paint himself taking a shower, may enjoy the prospect of being cleansed by history.
It should never happen. Fahrenheit 9/11 should be screened in our history classes. Paul Krugman’s columns about Dubya’s depravity should be memorized. We can’t let the Bush years become reservoirs for warped nostalgia, as the Reagan years have become in the popular culture.
On January 8, 2002, Bush spoke at my alma mater, Boston Latin School (which is now struggling to deal with the sort of open racism Bush’s party has fostered). During that speech, Bush ironically declared:
[Y]ou’re seeing government at its best with this piece of legislation [the No Child Left Behind Act, which Bush signed into law that day]. I know there’s a lot of folks who look at Washington and say, “Can’t they ever get along? All they do is argue. All they do is call each other names.” But on this piece of legislation, on this important piece of legislation, we figured out how to put our parties aside and focus on what’s right for the American children. We showed the country that, if we so desire, it is possible in Washington to say the nation matters more than our political parties matter.
Of course, the reality is that every day he was in office, Bush and his minions put party over nation, party over decency, party over human life. That reality should never be expunged from Bush’s permanent record.
Michelle Obama can give Bush an embrace. Barack Obama can shake his hand. However, it’s up to the rest of us to say that Bush was a disgrace, and that he nearly broke the spirit of this great land.