Monday, August 9, 2010

Do You Miss Him Yet?

I’ve argued (here and here) that Bush's reputation was bound to improve now that his divisive presidency is over. I thought conservatives were bound to warm some to the memory of him once they started digging in their heels against the Obama presidency and the Pelosi/Reid Congress. And I figured that people without an ideological axe to grind, even those who couldn’t stand the sight of Bush by 2008, would eventually start treating him with the respect they reflexively bestow on legitimate occupants of the White House.

Yet I can’t say that it ever occurred to me that there’d come a time when confirmed liberals would miss Bush, much less miss him less than two years after he left office. Yet Peter Beinart isn’t the only liberal who has noticed that there are important respects in which Bush looks pretty good compared to his successors in the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
“In the mid-1990s, when Pete Wilson and Pat Buchanan were demonizing Mexican immigrants, Bush insisted that they were just like everyone else. ‘Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande River,’ he told a reporter. ‘And see, what I understand is, is that when you’re a man who got kids to feed, and are you making 50 cents and you can look up north and see the chance to make $50 and your kids are hungry, that you are going to come.’

“After September 11, Bush described Muslims in the same universalistic way. A few months after the attacks, he insisted that 'Islam is peace,' a view dramatically at odds with the one being propagated by most conservative talking heads. (A 2002 poll of evangelical Protestant leaders found that only 10 percent thought Bush was right.) But Bush’s brand of Christianity was genuinely ecumenical. . . . Two months before the Iraq War, Bush declared, ‘The human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.’ . . .

"This is emphatically not what today’s Republicans believe. In 2006, Bush’s efforts at immigration reform were destroyed by the rising nativism of the grassroots GOP. And today, prominent Republicans barely ever discuss illegal immigrants in the humanizing terms that Bush did. . . . You don’t hear many Republicans calling Islam a religion of peace, either. . . . The more pessimistic, less universalistic conservatism being born in the post-Bush era probably has something to do with the decline in American self confidence. In the early Bush years, when America’s budget deficit was still small, its military might was largely unchallenged, and the triumph of democracy still seemed like history’s inevitable course, it was easier to be optimistic about the future of Islam. That same ideological and economic confidence also made it easier to believe that the U.S. could assimilate immigrants coming across our southern border. Now conservatives are more aware of America’s limits. And when it comes to Mexicans and Muslims, that includes the limits of American decency, too."
Say what you will about Bush, but I don't think he'd ever have used the sort of language that John McCain now uses to speak about immigration or Newt Gingrich now uses to speak about the Ground Zero mosque.

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