Looking at the Good and Bad in Public Leaders
This post was initially written as a response to comments on Light Up The Darkness, and was extended to a full blog entry there:
The comments to the previous post remind me of how different the Bush years are from most years. There are expressions of both favorable and unfavorable opinions about Bill Clinton. As I noted, personally I thought little of him initially, but Clinton looks much better in retrospect. It's hard to argue with eight years of peace and prosperity. Typically, whether I like or dislike a politician or public figure, there are good things and bad things I could say--except when a Bush is in office.
When Ronald Reagan died, it was easy to compare him favorably to Bush. Reagan appears a moderate when compared to George Bush. Even when I disagreed with Reagan, he still generally appeared to be doing what he felt was best for the country. Even when there were disagreements, his actions did not lead to the degree of polarization we see now. Reagan did not bring shame upon the entire country in the eyes of the world. Reagan went after the votes of the religious right, but never pandered to them in public policy as Bush has.
Of all Reagan's decisions, I've always felt that the worst was in the choice of a Vice President. When Bush Sr. was president, I thought he was one of the worst presidents for his lack of both vision and principles--foreshadowing his son in the White House. My first thoughts of Bush Sr. are of his attacks on civil liberties, his hiding behind the flag(including tours through flag factories), and the way in which he totally missed the big picture as Eastern Europe rebelled against Communism.
There is plenty of good and bad to say both about Bill Clinton. One story which came out following the 2004 election showed how he differed from John Kerry. Clinton advised Kerry to support ammendments opposing gay marriage in states where they were on the ballot. Kerry would not compromise principle in this way. Good and bad could also be said of Hillary, who was behind one of the worst government proposals in recent memory (Hillary Care) prior to the invasion of Iraq and Bush's proposals for the privatization of Social Security.
With the Pope's funeral dominating the headlines this week, there's plenty of good I could say about him as well, despite holding vastly different views on issues such as abortion rights and birth control. This includes his assistance in helping Jews escape from the Nazis, his contribution to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, his opposition to Bush's invasion of Iraq, his acknowledgement that the Church was wrong in condemning Galileo, and his openings to both Jews and Muslims.
Then there's Bush. It is so rare that one man can be so wrong so consistently, with so little to say in his favor. Following 9/11 there was a time in which it appeared he deserved some credit for his moves in Afghanistan, despite both taking too long to act (allowing Bin Laden to escape) and his freezing for the first 24-48 hours after the terrorist attacks when the nation was in need of an effective leader. Even when it appeared Bush was doing the right thing, he messed up in leaving before the job was done, and even in secretly diverting funds for his real goal of invading Iraq. Never in recent memory has a President done so much to undermine the security of the United States, weaken the free market system, and trample upon the ideals upon which this nation was founded.