George Bush and the Obituary Wars

By Frank Bruni.

“. . . the transcendent curse of these tribal times: Americans’ diminishing ability to hold two thoughts at once. Bush has indelible stains on his record. He also has points of light. At times he failed the responsibilities of leadership. At times he did right by them. He showed folly and he showed wisdom, cowardice and courage, aloofness and kindness.”

“. . . We like our villains without redemption and our heroes without blemish, and we frequently assign those roles in overly strict alignment with our ideology.”

“. . . we do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders. . .”

As the Quakers say, when in agreement, “That Friend speaks my mind.”

I Need Your Help

At a dinner at my university recently, I was seated next to a nice guy from our Development office. That means he asks wealthy people for money for a living. Wooing wealthy donors entails nonstop travel and an uncanny ability to feign interest in rich strangers’ lives. I would rather work in China retrieving cell phones from shit-filled porta-potties.

This Saturday I’m cycling from Portland to the Pacific Ocean on a ride designed to raise money for the American Lung Association. To participate, I had to raise at least $100. Instead of asking you my loyal readers to consider chipping in at so many cents a mile, I paid the $100 myself.

That’s not to say I don’t ever need other people’s help. The truth of the matter is I need something else from you—a female Democratic candidate capable of winning the 2016 Presidential election. Not named Clinton. We desperately need to shatter the political glass ceiling once and for all, but count me among the “Can’t we be more creative than Bush v Clinton?” contingent.

Clinton’s smart and progressive, but her public persona really rubs me the wrong way. No, that probably shouldn’t matter, but it does. Of course it’s impossible to be a Presidential candidate if you’re not hyper-ambitious. With Clinton though I don’t get a sense that her intense desire to be president is motivated by even a semi-selfless sense of public service, instead it seems like pure, unadulterated personal ambition.

Can’t wait for eldest daughter, who is going to work for her campaign, to write on Facebook or here, “You would never say a male candidate’s public persona rubs you the wrong way.” Save it sister. Ever seen Al Gore in a debate? Detached stiffness personified.

Before you attempt to help by suggesting Elizabeth Warren, know that she has been consistent in saying she isn’t running. If she did, I’d support her in a heartbeat. So someone Elizabeth Warren-like.

I’m counting on you. Thank you in advance.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.

Ideologues

I have some close friends whose politics are almost the complete opposite of mine. Our friendships endure because their personal attributes trump their whacked out politics :). Occasionally, one likes to send me ultra conservative mass emails “just to keep you up to date on what we crazy right-wingers are passing around these days to keep our morale up.”

Sunday’s was a video mocking how successful Barack Obama has been considering he graduated from a “community organizer community college”. Occasionally, I’ll crack a smile. They’re rarely good, but this one was particularly bad.

For satire or comedy to work, there has to be an element of truth in it. President Obama has an impressive education history that I suspect some of my friends on the right would wrongly attribute to affirmative action.

Much of the credit probably goes to his no-nonsense mother who demanded excellence. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the President and his wife, whose parents were equally demanding apparently, are holding their daughters to the same high standards. The right won’t acknowledge this, but the President hasn’t used race as an excuse for not achieving. What’s more traditional and conservative than two married parents holding their daughters to very high educational expectations? The power of their personal and parenting examples seem lost on the right.

I don’t know, but my guess is my conservative friends can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that Obama’s well-educated and a committed and caring parent because it doesn’t fit into their intensely negative narrative they’ve crafted. Acknowledging these points might lead to a slippery slope of having to concede other things that might compromise their conservative street cred. Short of eliminating taxes, privatizing everything, and doubling the size of the military, there’s nothing Obama can say or do over the next 2.5 or 6.5 years to change their negative opinions.

For someone who sees subtleties, nuance, and ambiguity around every corner, this is exasperating, but I have to concede that for every right-wing ideologue, there’s a left-wing one somewhere that, because of their passionate dislike of his policies, never could bring themself to acknowledge George Bush the man had redeemable qualities.

Somewhat related to this, can’t help but notice an increasing percentage of lefties are becoming disillusioned with the President. He’s brought some of it upon himself by raising expectations so fast on so many fronts. Take all the references to a “post-partisan era” as just one example. And there’s some truth in the overarching criticism that too often he acts as if he’s still in campaign-mode, trying hard not to offend instead of leading boldly. And I still wish he’d narrow his focus.

Our collective expectations for our presidents are probably too high. Maybe our problems have become too complex and our politics too corrupted by special interest money for any president to achieve Lincoln or FDR-like greatness anymore. Maybe we’d be better off pursing personal excellence closer to home, in the ways we listen, parent, educate, care for other others, work, and conduct our lives more generally.