I am so pleased that Pete linked to the video of Dick Cheney’s remarks. If you read the mainstream news accounts, you would have the sense that all he did was take a gentle poke at Obama — declaring the presidential center to be the “only-shovel ready project” in the country. What is interesting is that most of the seven minutes of remarks focused on George W. Bush, the man — a self-effacing, decent, “stand-up guy,” as Cheney described him. It’s important and not incidental to his legacy for a few reasons.
It is, quite frankly, a model of presidential behavior that has become obscured — by Clinton’s personal scandals, by Nixon’s criminality, and by Obama’s stand-offish partisanship. We expect our presidents to rise above the fray and not return invective in kind. Bush did this, unlike his successor, and it is a standard by which we should evaluate candidates and presidents.
Moreover, it was a fundamental part of his presidency and the substantive decisions he made. Why did he make such an effort to distinguish Islamic terrorists from ordinary, loyal American Muslims? Why did he refuse to cut and run in Iraq? Why did he hold allies dear and stand up to despots? It all comes, I would suggest, from a inner decency based on his religious faith. This is not to say that nonreligious people can’t be just as honorable. That’s not the point. The issue here is to understand why Bush would, for example, refuse to give in to anti-immigration sentiment, would put so much stock in faith-based programs, and would make the freedom agenda central to his foreign policy. All of these are reflections of his core personality.
Why was he so misunderstood? It wasn’t simply that liberal critics despised his policies. It is that they never “got” or took seriously his inner motives. They preferred to concoct arm-chair-psychology fictions about his relationship with his father or to paint him as a know-nothing.
It isn’t surprising, then, that the media didn’t report on the central message of Cheney’s speech. Many of those reporters consider it a fluff or boilerplate message. But once again, they miss the most important point — the explanation for who Bush is and why he did what he did. The media has a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious.