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The wounded heart

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

There’s little reason to comment at length about George W. Bush’s newly-published memoir, given the fact that he says virtually nothing new about the contentious policies he pursued, and that, on the printed page, he merely underscores what we already knew about his quick-draw impulses and paucity of intellectual curiosity.

But yesterday evening, while hawking his book on NBC, Bush said something noteworthy. Matt Lauer brought up the incident, shortly after Katrina, when Kanya West said that Bush didn’t care about black people; in response, the former president told Lauer that the West incident was “one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.” And in his book, Bush went further: “I faced a lot of criticism as president…But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low” – indeed, “the worst moment” of his presidency.

Wait a second.¬† That is what Bush considers his “all-time low” and “worst moment?” In other words, taking heat for his decision to send thousands of American soldiers to die in a needless war fought for non-existent reasons…that ranks higher on his comfort meter than being dissed by Kanye West? Being widely ridiculed for his failure to find so much as a single weapon of mass destruction, after hyping them as a “grave and gathering threat”…that’s somehow not as bad as being insulted by one rap singer?

His priorities might strike some of us as a tad odd, given the serial disasters of his presidency, but there’s actually a good explanation for his hurt feelings:

Members of the Bush family – George W., brother Jeb, father George, grandfather Prescott – have long considered themselves to be racially tolerant souls. George W. was always telling people that he supported black people in his “heart” (for instance, telling the NAACP: “Give me the chance to tell you what is in my heart”). The Bush guys have always tried to convince the black community that their hearts are in the right place. And whenever blacks have dissed them anyway (which is most of the time), the Bush guys have acted as if they were personally wounded.

The Bush reaction (with the reaction to West being merely the latest manifestation) is weirdly naive, because somehow the various Bushes have failed to fathom the simple truth that blacks typically judge them not on the basis of their “hearts,” but on the basis of their orthodox Republican strategies.

George the father said in 1988 that he expected to do well among black voters in his presidential race (after all, he had implemented affirmative action at the Republican National Committee while serving as chairman 16 years earlier), yet he stayed silent during the ’88 campaign when his strategists cooked up the infamous Willie Horton TV ad that preyed on white fears of black criminals. After he became president, he was so unnerved by his paltry black support that he told the party to study the issue.

Jeb the brother curried favor with minorities during his 1994 Florida gubernatorial bid, but after he got only six percent of the black vote, he said “It broke my heart.” So in 1998 he campaigned hard among blacks, and won 16 percent of their votes on his way to victory – yet one year later, Florida’s blacks fiercely assailed Jeb after he summarily wiped out affirmative action in public universities. True to the Bush character, he said he was personally wounded by the criticism. I wrote about this flap at the time; one Florida political observer, Lance deHaven-Smith, described Jeb to me: “He strongly believes in tolerance and respect between the races. So when people question his motives, his feelings get hurt.”

There it is again, those “feelings.” Who knew the Bushes had such tender hearts? Apparently George W. is way more upset by one rap artist’s random dis – clearly, a wound to his heart – than he is about the fact that, among other things during his presidency, the income gap between rich and poor widened at a rate not seen since the Great Depression; that the black poverty rate went up during his tenure after falling during the Bill Clinton era; and that black family median income went down during his tenure after rising during the Clinton era.

Even now, as evidenced by his lingering hurt over Kanye West, Bush seems to believe that he should be judged on how he feels inside, rather than how he actually performed. But he has those criteria backwards, which is why many historians may ultimately rank him with the all-time low.


Sarah Palin is due in suburban Philadelphia today. To mark the occasion, I’d like to excerpt a new Wall Street Journal column, posted by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, which strikes me as the most withering dis – ever – of Palin’s presumptions and ignorance. Especially the climax, when Noonan talks directly to Palin. Enjoy:

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity‚ÄĒreality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure….

Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can’t just bully them, you can’t just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade. Americans don’t want, as their representatives, people who seem empty or crazy.


  • Steve says:

    72% of black kids are raised in single parent households. Once a kid is born out of wedlock, the odds are already stacked against him. The family unit has been completely gutted and more government programs and spending ain’t going to help – in fact that could be part of the problem. I think some of the efforts to reform education can help, but that is still one step removed from the real problem, which is the household. Even though I agree with school choice and charters, I sympathize with teachers that don’t have a fighting chance because their students don’t have the right support system at home. A total culture change needs to take place that re-instates the importance of strong and accountable men in society. That happens through a groundswell of grass-roots efforts initiated and led by blacks themselves.

  • yobill626 says:

    I think the only reason there is “Bush bashing” is because the bashee himself has brought these things up by publishing his memoirs & comments he is making on the resulting book tour. As a Bush (Dubya) basher myself, I must give him kudos for how classy he has acted since leaving office. I thought then, & still do, he was truly awful. Just keep in mind that I do feel that both GHW Bush was an underrated Pres with excellent administrative skills & that Jeb would far & away have been my choice for a Jr. Bush Presidency. We just happened to get the dud pup of the litter.

    • NigeltheMastiff says:

      Wow,yobill, I could have written every word of your post. I agree with every single thing you said. The only other thing I would add is a comment about Peggy Noonan’s take on Sarah Palin. I’m glad she said it. She’s a well respected Republican. I think she probably reflects the same flinching reflex I do every time Palin opens her mouth and shows how little she knows and how mean-spirited and sarcastic she is. For women of our age, Palin seems to represent every stereotype we fought against in the uphill battles we faced to gain more equality in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve said this a number of times, but in case you’ve forgotten, I do believe there are very bright conservative women out there who could ably represent a conservative constituency. Palin just isn’t one of them.

      • yobill626 says:

        Thanks Nigel. I do agree that Palin is a truly horrible woman who likes to wrap herself in the flag while mouthing inane platitudes. The thing that is most telling about the Palin bashing is how much of it in 2008 came from the Right by many respected Con commetators — Will, Krauthammer, etc. Hopefully, my worst thoughts about her turn out to be true — that she’s just in it for the money & when the time comes, will take a pass & move full time into the celebrity life she seems to crave. She can make her money & America will be a safer place without her.

    • JimR says:

      yobill, brother Neil was quite a dud, too.

  • swedesboromike says:

    Kinda a shame we still have liberals Bush bashing. If we are being fair He was dealt an economic game changer with 9-11, the Dot.com bubble and Enron and the Fannie and Fredie induced mortgage meltdown. I think he has handled himself with class by not weighing in on Obama or partisan politics. . If only Jimmy Carter could be a statesmen and do the same.

    • frankg962 says:

      If we are being fair, he was good friends with “Kenny Boy” Lay and considered the Enron folks his friend. You just don’t understand. It’s the conservative policies that enabled Enron, Fannie, Freddie, and all the shenanigans on Wall Street. Why do I bother. Never let the facts get in your way Smike.

      • swedesboromike says:

        Frank- you are either trying to be snarky or woefully ignorant of the facts on Fannie and Freddie. The lowering of the mortgate underwriting standards were pushed by Democrats as a means of increasing home ownership among the poor. Fannie and Freddie then packaged the diseased mortgages to investment company’s under the guise of relatively secure investments. When Republicans tried to reign in Fannie and Freddie the left framed the argument that Republicans didn’t want poor people to get ahead. Democrats resorted to class warfare instead of doing what was right for the county and it is the single biggest root cause for the mortgage meltdown. nuff said

  • jmc says:

    You naturally neglect to mention how this “racist” has done more for blacks afflicted with AIDS in Africa than any other American President. You also neglect how this “racist” was asked by President Obama (a black man, mind you) to help lead in Hatian relief efforts following the earthquake. And you know what, I heard a rumor that many Hatians are actually black. Shhhh.

  • Rich says:

    The only thing that could prevent Bush from having a total lock on the “worst President ever” crown would be if Palin somehow got elected.

    • swedesboromike says:

      Rich, you can go right on Palin bashing as you on the left are missing the mark by a wide margin. While you consumed your time bashing the Sarah Palin mini me in Delaware, a bunch of really solid GOP candidates clamed the Senate seats in Kentucky, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida. And the Governorships in Pennsy, Florida, and Ohio. I wouldn’t waste all your rhetorical bullets on Sarah Palin as you’ll need some gas in the tank to deal with the real GOP nominee in 2012.

    • yobill626 says:

      Smike: Now lets see if the GOP does the right thing, or does their pigs at the trough imitations they did from 2002 – 2006.

      • swedesboromike says:

        That’s why a lot of incumbant Republicans didn’t win their primaries. Independents, Libertarians, and Republicans want a Republican party that lives up to the pillar of fiscal responsibility. Passing things like prescription drug and creating the office of Homeland Security was advancing the cause of liberalism and Republicans paid for it in 2006 and 2008 . Deservably so.

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