Last night I met George W. Bush. Or rather.... I was involved in an event at which the former President spoke, and he walked past me.
Okay, fine. Not the same thing. I did find it ironic that I was wearing a beautiful outfit made for me in Pakistan. As I left I thought that the man that made it for me probably would have refused to make it if he'd known it would be worn at an event at which GW was the speaker!
It was fascinating, though. It was an evangelical event, and so of course I was a little hesitant about having a political speaker as the highlight of an evangelical event for an organization not at all about politics. I conclude that down here in Texas most conservatives really do believe that Bush shares their evangelical convictions and just tones them down because he's in the public arena, and so of course he's a natural choice as a speaker. Regardless, despite not always liking his political decisions, I like George W. just fine and do not think he is stupid or evil, and so I looked forward to hearing him speak.
- George is in his home territory and the pressure is off, and he feels free. He was sunburned from golfing that morning, easy-going, jovial, and reminded me of my grandfather as he was a few years back. Giving everyone a hard time, telling story after story, and just loving being around people. He's funnier than I expected. I like him.
- He is proud of pouring money into aid for Africa. He named vast sums of money that he directed to Africa during his eight years as President, and I know that doesn't go over well now in a down economy with people not wanting money to leave our country. In his words, though, "If there was a vast pandemic killing (insert astronomically high number of AIDS deaths) people in Africa every year and as the leader of the most powerful country in the world I'd stood by for eight years and done nothing, what would that say about me?" Agreed. I am proud that he was and is so involved in Africa.
- Bush spoke so highly of Tony Blair as a man of courage, honesty, and principle. He said, "It's not often that another politician looks you in the eye and tells you something and you know absolutely that he will follow through with it."
-On the other hand, he ripped Putin to shreds. Interesting timing, because I was just listening to NPR's feature interview with the author of a new biography of Putin that highlights his machismo "strongman" fixation. Bush's stories coincided with that telling of things. I was just dying laughing when he said that once Putin visited him at Camp David and Bush introduced him to his Scottish terrier, Barney. In Bush's words, "I love that dog! He was by my side all the time through eight years of the Presidency." Bush says Putin looked at Barney and looked back at Bush in disbelief as if to say, "Really?!" When Bush went to visit Russia this massive hound comes bounding across the lawn towards them. Putin points with pride and says, "Bigger, stronger, and faster than Barney." Really??? Putin's intense desire for machismo is hilarious.
- The Putin slamming went on, with one aside about his tight black macho shirts, "Just like a bad B movie."
- Along those lines, I was actually a bit surprised at how biting he was in his comments about other world leaders. I'm sure some of them deserve it and it's how an average American perceives some other cultures, but that is indicative of why I was uncomfortable with much of how Bush interacted with world leaders. Perhaps it didn't start us off on the best foot most of the time. Obama is bashed for his foreign relations humility but I think it serves us better.
- Having heard Bush speak about his faith, I don't understand how you could say that the way he talks about his faith is any different than Obama talks about his. Both of them reflect platitudes and they repeat back what the American Christian culture says. Neither one of them seems to have really wrestled theologically, but then... they are politicians, not theologians, and who are we to judge the state of the heart? My point is only that it's ridiculous to condemn the faith of one and honor the faith of the other when they both say essentially the same things..... exactly what the voters want them to say.
- Bush repeated what a great many American politicians do, which is to present democracy as the salvation of the world. It will apparently solve all ills. I happen to also think that it is the best political system, but I think this idolization of democracy is one-sided. You can have democracy and still have a society devoid of soul. There are a great many democracies filled with depressed people and a society that is falling apart for lack of spiritual life and morality. Democracy is not everything. It is certainly not the salvation of the world.
- I really appreciate that Bush refuses to bash Obama. He could have in this crowd and they would've loved him for it. But no, he is respectful and told people to pray for Obama because Presidents desperately need it (it wasn't condescending). He is intentional in staying out of policy discussions right now and refused to discuss Obamacare. The only political point that he said he is very concerned about and that he will continue to speak publicly on is the rise of isolationism. Interestingly, this is probably more of a problem in his own party at the moment, and perhaps most of all here in Texas.
- "Power and fame are addictive. Did I like having power? Yes. Do I miss it? No."
- Most horrifying to me is that he said he was very proud of deciding to have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
water boarded. WHAT? Proud? I mean, that decision could have been a lot of things and he could have described it many ways, but to just bluntly say it's one of his Presidential decisions that he's proud of??? I would even understand (though not agree) if he'd said that it's a decision he hated having to make but it was necessary. But....proud? Ugh, very uncomfortable with that. And his logic was that that decision was necessary in order to get information that would save people. That's exactly the problem, really. If we are willing to give up moral standards in order to save people, then we have no boundaries and our democracy is pointless and dangerous.