Bryan Owen’s recent article in Life and Work entitled “Religion and Politics: Do They Mix?” begs a reply.
There is a prevailing assumption in Scottish culture that President Obama represents the cure for the evils of the Bush Administration. Behind the assumption is a tacit acceptance of the belief that Bush was at best an incompetent bumbler and at worst a power-hungry opportunist with an itchy trigger finger.
His complaint is one of the perceived duplicity of the former President who promised “compassionate conservativism” but will instead be remembered for his “ill conceived response to the 9/11 atrocities, the morass that is Iraq, the debacle over New Orleans and the present world-wide financial crisis.”
Maybe, but there is more to the story.
As it is with anyone in leadership, the issues Bush was forced to deal with were incredibly complex and, especially with the 9/11 tragedy and Hurricane Katrina, there were no precedents.
Who can say what was or is an “appropriate response” to 9/11? Certainly nothing short of a declaration of war, but a war of what form, and against what enemy? Bush was forced to answer those questions and, while we may disagree with the decisions he made, no one can argue that he ignored the threats or failed to act in a meaningful way.
Bush has become the whipping boy for the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. But, for decades the governments of New Orleans and Louisiana were guilty of the mismanagement, graft, neglect, corruption and outright thievery of Federal funds designated for the maintenance and improvement of the levy system. The city motto has been and remains, “Laissez les bons temps roulet.” New Orleans plans for “the now” and not “the morra.” As a former resident of New Orleans I can tell you that everyone in that city knew that a hurricane like Katrina was inevitable, a question of when and not if. And yet, there was nothing done to prepare evacuation plans or to lay up provisions for those who would be left behind.
Yes, the Federal government could have and should have done more, but we cannot be so ignorant of history to complain that the suffering was entirely the fault of the Bush administration.
It is also easy to blame Bush for the free fall of the world economic system. Owen reminds us that it was Bush himself who admitted that the problems happened “on his watch.” But does that mean that Bush is to bear the sole blame? No. The economic policies of deregulation were actually begun during the Clinton administration. One could argue that the Bush administration did nothing to halt the slide to an unfettered, profit driven market, but reducing government interference in financial markets was not a new idea. It has long been the heart of the American ideal. Regrettably, it was under Bush’s ‘watch’ that the philosophy came to its logical conclusion of unadulterated greed, but arguing that it is somehow Bush’s fault is simply missing the larger picture.
Iraq is more confusing and, considering the last six years it is easy to sum up the Allied Occupation like Mr. Owen: a “morass.” But, like it or not, Iraq is rapidly becoming a reasonably stable democracy and an ally in the Middle East. The Iraqi people have lost their taste for suicide bombings and are moving away from their former support of the religious extremists who preach jihad. Iraqi security forces are fast taking over the work presently handled by the allied military forces. There is much work that remains to be done, but even Obama has found that the “morass” is fast becoming a solution rather than a problem.
Obama comes to office on a wave of happy public support, but not everyone voted for him. There were many legitimate and unanswered questions about his relationship with Yassar Arafat, his involvement with the shady tactics of the Chicago political scene and the real sources of his nearly $900 million campaign contributions. By his own admission he was spared many of the pointed questions applied to other candidates. His only real qualifications for office were a short stint in the Illinois legislature and an even shorter term as a US Senator, the majority of which was devoted to his presidential campaign. Obama boasts that he was a “community organizer,” but what is that and how does that short period of his life qualify him for President? Most of Obama’s professional life was spent as a professor of law, which has certainly given him an erudite ability to discuss the history of governmental theory, but theory and practice are often leagues apart.
The beauty of the democratic system is that it allows for corrective swings. When one administration proves unpopular the public has the chance to swing in the opposite direction with new political leadership. Bush was not popular, but that does not mean he was an incompetent leader?
I hope and pray that Obama is a good president. I hope that he succeeds in ways the world wants him to. And, as a dual citizen of America and Britain I hope that he can restore some of the international relationships that have eroded over the last eight years. But, let us look at him in realistic terms and let us not fall prey to the same mistakes Mr. Owen accuses of the Republican evangelical right: oversimplifying the issues by casting one man entirely in light and another entirely in shadows.