January 23, 2009
When John Adams left the White House for the final time in March of 1801 he did so on a public stagecoach at 4:00 a.m.—eight hours prior to his successor’s inauguration. Most of his political enemies and many of his friends interpreted the act as that of “a petulant old man,” leaving Washington in the dark of night, bitter after coming out on the losing end of an election which historian David McCullough describes as “a contest of personal vilification surpassing any presidential election in American history.”
The fact is, as McCullough points out, there was no precedent for a defeated president attending the inaugural of his successor, nor had Adams been invited to attend the ceremony. McCullough notes that Adams simply “felt immense relief to be homeward-bound, free finally of his burdens, his conscience ‘neat and easy.’”
There is no question that George W. Bush shares Adams’ sentiments. No president in my memory has been as vilified in the media, or by the American public, as our 43rd president. When he took his place on the inaugural dais to witness the swearing in of his successor, Mr. Bush was greeted by the childish chants of Obama supporters: “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” So much for partisan goodwill.
President Bush leaves Washington the way he came in. You may recall that on January 20, 2001—the day of George W. Bush’s first Inaugural—the Bush team entered their offices at the White House for the first time to discover that Clinton staffers had trashed them, going so far as to remove all of the “W’s” from their computers. Pettiness, it seems, is a virtue among those who support Democrat presidents.
President Bush has maintained his dignity through it all—and by doing so has demonstrated he is a superior man. If a Christian is identified by their emulation of Jesus Christ, Mr. Bush fits the description: “When he was reviled, he reviled not again.”
History will judge whether George W. Bush was a great president. But given how he has personally conducted himself in the midst of much personal vilification, it has already been decided that he is a great man. While polls tallied his rising unpopularity, Mr. Bush maintained his resolve to do what he knew was right and in the best interests of the nation, a virtue I fear will be conspicuously absent from the incoming administration.
On the evening of January 20, 2009 the former president arrived home in Midland, Texas to a warm reception given by his friends and supporters. After eight years in exile in Washington, Mr. Bush made no attempt to hide his exuberance at finally being back in the town where he was raised and in the state that gave birth to and shaped his values. “Laura and I may have left Texas, but Texas never left us,” he told the gathered crowd. “I’m coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment.”
Mr. Bush deserves more than the patronizing nod he received from President Obama on Inauguration Day. He has earned the thanks of a grateful nation who eventually will come to appreciate his firm resolve in the execution of his office.
While the mainstream media was focusing the attention of the nation on the missteps of the prosecution of the war in Iraq, George W. Bush was focused on closing the achievement gap between white and minority students in our nation’s public schools, providing a prescription drug benefit for our seniors, cutting taxes for everybody who pays taxes in the United States of America, saving the lives of millions around the world through the funding of malaria and HIV/AIDS initiatives, maintaining the constitutional integrity of the Supreme Court through the appointments Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and liberating 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan from the clutches of tyranny through his unwavering commitment to the guiding principle of his administration: “The strong have an obligation to defend the weak. Freedom is a universal gift of an Almighty God, and America should use its influence to be a force for good in the world.”
Like most of his predecessors who went to sleep the most powerful man in the free world and woke up the next morning “an ordinary citizen,” Mr. Bush isn’t certain what the post-presidency holds for him. “Tomorrow I plan on having a relaxing morning in Crawford,” he told the crowd in Midland.
After bearing the burdens of the presidency for eight years, engaging an enemy unlike any that any president has ever confronted, keeping the American people safe and free, enduring the daily maligning of his character from the most partisan media in history, it is proper that Mr. Bush relish every day of his post-presidency in the warmth and understanding which can be found only at home.
After watching him endure the crucible of the presidency, who among us can begrudge that Mr. Bush is finally home, “free finally of his burdens, his conscience ‘neat and easy’”?
Paul Edwards is a regular columnist and the host of “The Paul Edwards Program” heard daily on WLQV in Detroit. Contact Paul at [email protected].