Yesterday, I saw most of an Oprah Winfrey interview with President George W. Bush. I have only seen a few snatches of the one with Matt Lauer.
I am duly impressed by the calm, cool way that President Bush continues to carry himself. I listened as he explained, on the Oprah show, several of the key things from his new book, Decision Points. He talked about 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial meltdown of Wall Street.
In the case of the last one, I found myself appreciating that he did not try to cast the bailout as a good thing. He considers it to have been a very bad thing—just not as bad as the alternative. He felt it violated his own economic principles not to let Wall Street reap the harvest of its own greed. He looked at the audience in Oprah’s studio and said he hated taking their money and giving it to the very people who had caused the problem. But he felt it had to be done.
His talking about the “war on terror” was similar. A lot of terrible decisions had to be made, ones that would negatively affect many lives.
I can say this much for President Bush: I am pretty convinced that he honestly believes these things. He is a man of great principle. As he said on Oprah’s stage, “Popularity is fleeting. Principles are forever.” I am one who is a bit wary of the language of “principles,” but I can appreciate that they really mean something to him.
I believe that President Bush, like all the presidents of the United States, is a very intelligent man who happens to believe in certain myths which are not true.
In a recent post, I quoted from the Prologue to the book I am now reading. It is by Vinoth Ramachandra and is called Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World. People who know me and other visitors to TLW will not be surprised to hear that I do not fully agree with Ramachandra. But neither will they be surprised to hear me say that I am finding myself tremendously benefitted from the reading, and I am only now in the second chapter.
A couple of sentences from inside the dust jacket really do a great job of capturing the way I think of President Bush, as well as every president in my lifetime: “It is a myth that only the uninformed masses believe in myths and that power brokers, media moguls, leading scientists, financial tycoons, political luminaries and intellectual elites don’t. The myths that the ruling classes believe may be more sophisticated, but they are myths nonetheless.”
President Obama was quoted in today’s LA Times as having just publicly spoken as a Christian as he assured Indonesian Muslims that “we are all God’s followers.” This, I find to be alarming, though not surprising. From what I am able to ascertain from my very limited vantage point, the current president is about as different from the previous one in his religious authenticity as he is in his politics. In saying this, I may be saying a lot or very little.
President Obama largely subscribes to many of the same myths as President Bush, namely those of Enlightenment Liberalism. And there are broader myths yet which are believed, not only by these two, and not only by all the American presidents, but virtually by every ruling head of state throughout history.
I hope to deal more with the substance of these myths in future posts. But for the moment, I wanted to express sincere appreciation for President Bush as a man of integrity, even if his thinking is biblically askew. One of the moments from the Lauer interview that I saw was one in which Bush said that, every morning, he reads the Bible first and then the Wall Street Journal. It was apparent from the way he said this that he does not read either of these texts with an understanding of the light years of metaphysical and axiological distance between the two. For him, though the Bible is by far the more authoritative, it is does not bring a value system which is inherently at odds with the WSJ.
Nevertheless, insofar as President Bush really believes that he is seeing the world rightly, he seems to really want to stay true to his beliefs. He has never been interested in listening to polling data when deciding what his beliefs are. And I do appreciate that.
A few months ago, I actually took a few minutes to think through the list of men who have been presidents of the United States in my lifetime, asking in what order I would rank them as men of integrity. Obviously, I could only make my best guesses based on my limited exposure to these men. And in many cases, this amounts to little more than the merest of impressions. The criteria I used to evaluate them as men of integrity were these questions:
1. Does he sincerely seem to be the same man everywhere all the time, or does he seem to have a public face and a private one?
2. Whatever his beliefs, political, religious, etc., does he stay true to them in practice, and not just in rhetoric?
Based on that, these were my rankings, from best to worst:
1. Jimmy Carter
2. George W. Bush
3. Ronald Reagan
4. Gerald Ford
5. George H. W. Bush
6. Richard Nixon
7. Barack Obama
8. Bill Clinton
After I put these down, I noticed that the Democrats were at the top and bottom of the list. Go figure! 🙂
What would your order be?