Just before the 2000 election, a friend asked how I could support George W. Bush for president when he was “just like the guys who picked on you in high school.” She was right–to a point. Like them, he came from an uppercrust eastern establishment family, never having to struggle as an adolescent to fit in, always having opportunities opening up for him thanks, in large part, to his family connections and his Anglo-Saxon pedigree.
I went to a private “college preparatory” school in the Midwest where my classmates, at one time or another, included a scion of the Taft family and one who claimed descent from the Adamses. Among these offspring of the “finest” Cincinnati families, I was an outsider.
Among the “popular preppies,” however, there were a few who did not pick on those of us of a different religious background, those less gifted at athletics or more interested in our studies. Or whose families only recently came into their fortune. Or had no fortune at all.
There was one preppie in particular who was always friendly to me–and everyone else for that matter. I recall once during assembly when one of the popular kids (and his Jewish hanger-on) put a ruler through a belt loop on my best corduroy pants and pulled, detaching the loop. The other guy was looking on, gently urging his friends to lay off while giving me an awkward, but amicable look that said, “They’re just playing around. Don’t take them too seriously.”
It was that look which defined him. When last I saw him at our fifteenth reunion, while he had a few more pounds and a lot less hair, he was exactly as he had ben in high school, asking me about my life and my mother (his Dad and my Mom went to high school together). He was unfailingly polite and seemed genuinely interested in my life and general welfare.
George W. Bush strikes me as this kind of preppie. One reason so many people hate him is that they see him as the classmate who pulled out my belt loop, someone born to a wealthy family who never had to work to achieve his social or financial success and who mocked those beneath him.
Yet, from what we know about the personal life of the president, we find him much more like the guy who asked about my mother than the ones who mocked my study habits and extracurricular interests (drama and Model UN).Â While he does seem to have a lot of friends with a pedigree similar to his own, he doesn’t limit himself to such individuals.
In Texas, he surrounded himself with a diverse array of non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestant friends, including Hispanics and African-Americans. He remained close to his longtime family friend Charles Francis when the latter came out as gay. As President, he has met regularly with rabbis and other Jewish leaders at the White House. (This post references one of those meetings.)
All evidence suggests George W. Bush is a decent man who means well. Bearing in mind what we know about the president, I can’t help but like the guy. But, just because I like him doesn’t mean I approve of the everything he has done as president.
He fumbled away a winning hand after his 2004 reelection. He didn’t have a comprehensive legislative agenda nor the resolve to stand up to a spendthrift Republican Congress. Nor as situation continued to deteriorate in Iraq did he realize he might need to shift his strategy (before a change in Congress forced his hand). And he never developed an effective strategy to deal with a hostile media.
That may well be because he doesn’t perceive them as hostile, just as aggressive journalists doing their job. I don’t think he hates his adversaries (as they do him). I do think he is acting in what he perceives to be the national interest — and not (as some have said) to benefit his cronies or allies in oil and other industries.
It is entirely fair when people take issue with his policies and/or his governing style, but to impugn his character as so many have done seems more a projection of their own demons onto the President of the United States than legitimate political discourse. They seem to derive their theories of his evil or greed not from actual facts about the man, but from their own prejudices about men of his class.
It seems to me they see him as a certain type of preppie, haughty and self-satisfied, a man who looks down on those who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, those who had to work, suffer and struggle to find their way in this world.
Born to good fortune George W. Bush certainly was, but he seems more like certain members of his class who strive to treat all people with dignity and grace, good men and women who reject the condescending attitudes of some of their peers. Those qualities may not make for a good president, but they often make for a decent human being.
It’s too bad some of his critics can’t distinguish between the two.