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Friday, April 24, 2009

Bush Future

Okay, I've admitted in the past that I voted for George Bush - both of them - and the second one both times. I think I probably voted for the first one because he seemed to be something of an extension of Ronald Reagan, whom I generally approved of.

But then I voted for Bill Clinton - both times. He was also someone whom I generally approved of. What happened with George W. Bush (the second one) surprised me though.

When I voted for George W. Bush, it was really a vote for his character. The first time, I didn't think Al Gore had integrity. After all, he had claimed to have invented the Internet! So I chose George W. I guess I was really voting against Al Gore. The second time around, I voted for George W. Bush, again because of his character. But that time, I was more or less voting against John Kerry. I didn't like his wife. When Bush won that election, I felt as if evil had been defeated ... and so had her husband.

I wonder if any other voters in America could confess to having voted against someone instead of for someone. But that is a blog for another day. Let me continue.

The thing that surprised me about George W. Bush is that he turned out not to be who I thought he was. He had claimed to be a born-again Christian. I took him at his word. I signed up on the web site to pray for him regularly. And I did pray for him. I prayed that God would give him favor, wisdom, protection, discernment, and wise counsel as well as influence. I believed that God genuinely answered those prayers too. (Still do!)

But then it happened. I saw George W. Bush making decisions that I was pretty sure didn't line up with Scripture. They were decisions that I knew couldn't have come from the Lord. They were decisions and behaviors that didn't line up with the character and nature of God that I've come to know so intimately myself. Perhaps even more telling is the behavior of George W. Bush now that he's a past president. Most ex-leaders of the free world learn to embrace the second chapter. Quite often that turns into a class act. With George, maybe not so much.

Thomas Jefferson was quoted as having said, "Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power." He could retreat to his Monticello home and plant his University of Virginia. "I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides," he wrote to John Adams, "and I find myself much the happier."

But it is rare the modern President who retires to his farm and his library, unless by library we mean a multimillion dollar monument to himself. These men are, as George W. put it, "type A personalities," who can't envision themselves sitting on some beach in a Hawaiian shirt. In Bush's case, he said this was, "particularly since I quit drinking."

The standard pursuits include writing books, launching foundations and going fishing. Many of them lived in poverty. George Washington returned from his presidency to find Mount Vernon in a terrible state of disrepair. He had to sell off land to make repairs, since his time away had, "despoiled my buildings but also deranged my private affairs." Truman had only a modest savings and an Army pension of 112.56 per month - and had to take out a bank loan his last couple of weeks in office. (One of his notable post-presidency endeavors was a simple road trip with his wife to see the country he had ruled!)

It wasn't until 1958 that the U.S. Congress enacted a generous pension and allowance for past presidents. That was when things began to change. In fact, since that time, becoming President of the U.S. has become one of the most financially lucrative career moves one could make. Most have lived quite comfortably forever after. They didn't have to concern themselves with making money, so they have generally concerned themselves with making (or remaking) history.

Truman now ranks as one of our top Presidents - aided by the peaceful end to the Cold War. Jimmy Carter's approval ratings as President have climbed from 34% to 64% since leaving office. Most think that has been because of his considerable humanitarian works as an ex-President.

When Herbert Hoover left the presidency, the country was in a worse shambles than it was then Bush "W" left it. He lived another 31 years and became one of the greatest champions of children the U.S. has ever known. He drove the growth of the Boys Clubs of America and the creation of UNICEF. He led a campaign to get food to millions of civilians who faced famine after Word War II. By the time he'd died, he had satisfied his critics and was regularly identified as one of the most admired men in America.

Even Bill Clinton, who has turned the presidency into the most financially lucrative act of his life, has done good with it. Despite the fact that he personally earned more than $90 million in the first five years after his presidency, he set up one of the most influential non-profit foundations the world has ever known. He's been busy doing good, championing change and challenge the world to behave itself. He uses his platform do good - and so the world overlooks (and even forgives) his gross wealth and self-centeredness.

So where does this leave us with George W. Bush? And why am I uneasy about where he is going with his ex-presidency? For starters, he didn't retire to the ranch as he had promised he would. Instead he purchased, for cash, an expensive house in a tony suburb of Dallas. He also had the government purchase the house next to it (for his security detail). Then he asked the city to put a gate at the end of the street to keep commoners from driving on his street. The city of Dallas had to put expensive police detail in the neighborhood to protect Mr. Bush. One must really wonder if he considered the ramifications of his housing choice. Did he really intend to cost the city of Dallas this much money? Did he know he would? Does he care?

Then there is the Bush library. Mind you, Reagan, Nixon, Carter and even Clinton have all built lasting, expensive monuments to their presidencies. It's become commonplace to raise money from wealthy "friends" to build the giant edifices --- and then turn them over to the National Park Service to operate (and fund) into perpetuity. Each of these libraries becomes an albatross around the necks of the American people - a financial drain on us forever. And Bush will be no exception. In fact, his library is already controversial. The land is being squabbled over. He wants a high-priced, highly fought over piece of land in a high profile area next to the prestigious SMU campus. A court fight is on and Mr. Bush is being subpoenaed to testify.

The requests for speaking engagement, his wife's book deal, the squabble over his library, the hoopla over his house - all don't make very much of the first 100 days of Bush's ex-presidency. So far, it seems that George W. Bush is mostly focused on increasing his wealth (despite that generous pension and expense account), and being a celebrity. If we thought it was disgusting that Clinton did the same thing, I would contend that Bush is worse. At least Clinton didn't try to ride around on that born-again Christian platform. He didn't try to pretend he was someone else.

Clinton turned out to be not much more of a statesman personally than Britney Spears. Despite his influential foundation, he has made his ex-presidency pretty much all about himself. And let's face it, George W. Bush looks more like a Clinton wanna be than a Truman or a Hoover. Bush could use his platform to do great and lasting good. Or he could use it for himself. So far, I am sorely disappointed to see the latter taking shape.

I pray that I am wrong. I pray that God will give Mr. Bush favor, wisdom, protection, discernment, wise counsel and influence. I still believe that God will genuinely answer those prayers too. What I'm less certain of is whether Mr. Bush actually listens to - or obeys God.

So far Bush is blaming his poor reputation on bad timing. He has lamented that, "There ought to be a rule where no one writes about your short-term until a generation of those who never voted for your or against you show up, you know what I'm saying?" It is clear that Mr. Bush is hoping that time will cast him in a better light.

Time will reveal who George Bush really is. If you want to be cast in a better light, Mr. Bush, perhaps you should get more focused on doing something that is better.

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