"Always act first class," has been my husband's coaching philosophy in 33 seasons of high school football. He expects first-class behavior of his players not just on the field but also inspires them to live their lives by that motto. Whether it's in their family relationships and home life, conduct at school, church, in the community, etc., he has impressed upon them that if they set the tone of acting first class they will achieve more, gain more respect and maybe most importantly, induce the same type of behavior from others. The presidential luncheon hosted yesterday by George W. Bush was an example of acting first class. A gathering of living presidents in the Oval Office has not occurred since 1981. President Bush has been vilified by every man in that room with the exception of his own father, yet, he recognized the monumental point in history we are experiencing and he wanted to commemorate it. This morning, cable news pundits remarked about Jimmy Carter standing an arm's length away from the others and questioned why. Perhaps he felt a bit uncomfortable in light of his many derogatory comments about President Bush. To be offered a hand of friendship and understanding may have caused him to feel restive.
Bill Clinton had somewhat of a frozen smile on his face. In recent years, Mr. Clinton has enjoyed a friendly relationship with both 41 and 43, so it is likely he reveled in the opportunity to share some time with them. When portraits of the Clinton's were unveiled and hung in the White House, George and Laura Bush welcomed the Clinton's as graciously and warmly as possible, yet, both Bill and Hillary had spoken out harshly about the President and his policies. The Bush's also have been exceedingly helpful and cooperative in the transition toward the Obama's. Politics aside, it would be difficult for anyone to discount the good-hearted intentions and forgiving nature the Bush's have shown toward those that may not be undeserving of such generosity.
George W. Bush went to Washington with the intention of creating a "new tone", and he was invigorated by the opportunity to serve the country as a "compassionate conservative". He made the statement yesterday that the office transcends the person. That is an important and profound ascription that he found out the hard way. In many ways, it has taken eight years for him to have the opportunity to exhibit his idea of bringing a conciliatory tone to the office. He probably had very different expectations of his presidency in terms of how he was received, especially by the press. As a politician, he expected a reasonable amount of disagreement and discord from his opponents, but I doubt the level of hatred was ever anticipated. Yet, he has stood firm in his resolve and has weathered the controversy and criticism with as much courage and mettle as we will likely see for a long time to come. In the face of the MSM and political opponents often not acting first class in order to best serve the nation, Mr. Bush usually did try to be congenial and treat others with Christian charity.
The President's agenda eight years ago looked very different than what history will reveal it to be. He campaigned on the ability to cross the aisle to get things done for the people. He promised to change Washington. He wanted to bring about tort reform and revamp Social Security. Early in his administration, he aligned with Ted Kennedy and other Democrats in signing the No Child Left Behind Act into law. Few other pieces of legislation caused him as much heated debate and criticism.
As President-Elect Obama begins his career in the White House he promises change of all sorts, especially bringing change to how things are done in Washington. He has an aggressive spending agenda he feels will jump start the economy and create jobs and equality in the standard of living for all Americans. He promises transparency and a willingness to get along with his political opponents. He promises to change our environment, our methods of transportation, how much we are taxed, what amount of time each of us will serve the government toward the common good and other progressive ideals. During the campaign when John McCain was adamant about stopping earmark-laden legislation, Mr. Obama dismissed that by saying earmarks only account for a very small portion of government spending. Today, he is talking a lot about denying Congress their earmark projects. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same in Washington.
President Bush acted first class yesterday. His presidency was forever transformed by the attacks of September 11, 2001. While many in the world disagreed with him, he adjusted his agenda, put aside his own pet projects in order to keep the United States of America safe from further attacks. Domestic issues he feels passionately about have taken the back burner. He knows better than most that a president may well not be able to accomplish his campaign promises and focus solely on domestic issues.
Keeping the country safe is the president's primary responsibility. If we could rewind the clock and 9/11 would not have occurred, I wonder what the legacy of George W. Bush would be today. Would we have seen true education reform, a shoring up of Social Security and some sustainable policies made in the delivery of health care? A president goes to Washington with high expectations. What happens along the way sometimes is determined by forces beyond his control and the real change is in the agenda. Nonetheless, Americans need the leadership, strength and resolve of a president that always acts first class.