I have little doubt that future historians will ultimately judge our 43rd President, George W. Bush far more favorably than his contemporaries. The purpose of this column, however, is not to discuss his decisions or policies.
We senior officials in the administration of George W. Bush knew well his profound decency, his courage, his sensitivity, his integrity, his sincerity, and his remarkable humility for a person of his high stature in American society. These were qualities, however, that somehow he was unable to project in a State-of-the-Union address or in a major television speech before the nation. When you had an intimate one-on-one conversation with him or a meeting with him in a small group, it was another matter altogether.
Last night, however, in his televised conversation with Matt Lauer about his forthcoming book, Decision Points, I think at long last George W. Bush conveyed to the American public the qualities that we senior Bush 43 officials found so endearing. For me, it was a moment of enormous pride.
This is a former President who does not point fingers at somebody else for matters that went wrong during his administration. This is a former President who will answer any question about his administration forthrightly, without dissembling. Finally, this is a former President of true class who refuses to criticize his successor, Barack Obama, despite the latter’s continuous denigration of President Bush that began literally on his first day in office.
As I listened to President Bush last night, I remembered the last time I saw him, Wednesday, January 7, 2009.
Bush administration appointees had been invited to Washington for a private farewell speech by the President. For me, this was also during a difficult emotional period of my life, and not just due to my impending departure as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA.
My wife, Lynne, was in New York University hospital, having undergone successful cancer surgery on January 5, 2009 that had saved her life. She insisted that I go to Washington, noting that her daughters could keep her company and take care of her needs during the brief period that I would be away.
Lynne was a major fan of George W. Bush for two reasons.
First, George W. Bush was a strong and unwavering supporter of the State of Israel. It is remarkable that the two Presidents who were the most supportive of Israel, Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush, were both from the state of Texas.
The second reason was something that had occurred some years before.
Lynne is a high school math teacher – a truly outstanding professional and master teacher. I had introduced her to President Bush years earlier by saying, “Lynne is a teacher.” Without hesitation, he responded, “Thank you for being a teacher.”
Teaching and nursing are two professions whose practitioners do an enormous amount of good for humanity. Yet these are perhaps the two most unappreciated professions.
So when George W. Bush said to Lynne those words, he made her a lifelong fan. His sincerity could not be doubted, and his commitment to the education of America’s children was one of his paramount priorities.
Accordingly, with Lynne’s blessing, I went to Washington to hear President George W. Bush say farewell to us who had served him. He was introduced by his press secretary Dana Perino, who wept as she concluded by saying, “he is also a wonderful man”.
The George W. Bush we then heard was a man totally at peace with himself. He spoke with humor and pride, while acknowledging the areas where our administration had not succeeded. Yet he was without regret, because he knew, as he stated to Matt Lauer last night, that he had given his very best and honorable effort in office.
After the speech, I turned to a fellow administration official and expressed my frustration that George W. Bush had never been able to connect with the American public the way he had with us in the room that morning.
George W. Bush had the opportunity last night at long last to forge this connection with the American public. He made the most of it. Millions of Americans now know why those of us who served George W. Bush loved him. Indeed, outside of my faith and family, I am most proud in life of having served in the administration of a great American, George W. Bush.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.