In January 2001 I had the honor and privilege of attending the inauguration of President George W. Bush. The country was ready to put the finishing touches on eight years of the Clinton Administration. The weather, much like the Obama inauguration, was freezing but the crowd of approximately 300,000 joyfully received the new president. The crowd also respectfully applauded when outgoing President Clinton and Vice-President Gore were introduced.
It was a much different scene when President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were introduced to the estimated crowd of 2 million at Obama’s inauguration. Bush was openly booed by the crowd causing even the ultra-liberal MSNBC commentators to cry “bad form.” Vice-President Chaney hurt his back earlier in the week and was forced to take the platform in a wheelchair. Many in the crowd found that to be funny, making snide comments loud enough to be picked up by nearby network and cable microphones and broadcast around the world. It was a disgusting and embarrassing display from people who had bathed in media generated Bush hatred for the last eight years.
There is no question that President Bush is limping out of office with one of the lowest approval ratings (34%) of any president in history. But how will history treat President Bush when it comes to the big issues of his presidency? Since President Bush claims to be an evangelical, how will evangelicals view his tenure in the White House?
Right out of the gate, it should be acknowledged that after the attacks of 9/11 everybody believed we would be attacked again…. everybody. Attacks took place around the world in places like Spain, England, Ireland, and India…but not in America. You have to admit that for seven years, Bush Administration policies kept America safe from terrorists. For that alone I say, thank you, Mr. President.
From an evangelical perspective President Bush should receive high marks for persistence on the life issues and for fulfilling his word to place pro-life justices on the United States Supreme Court. Early in his presidency, Bush had to decide what to do about embryonic stem-cell research. He was being pressed from the scientific community and from many high-profile celebrities to open the floodgates for full embryonic research that would have set the precedent of an “anything goes” policy; subjecting human embryos to full scientific experimentation. Instead Bush chose life by allowing research only on the lines of embryos that were already designated for that purpose. He refused to treat human embryos like laboratory rats. Throughout his presidency he stood firm against embryonic stem-cell research, vetoing a bill with bi-partisan support that cost him support in his own party. It would have been easy for Bush to cave and allow the majority to have their way with the unborn. But Bush took the high road and stood in the gap for those who could not yet stand for themselves.
President Bush re-instated the “Mexico City Policy” which prohibits federal money used overseas to provide for abortions. He pushed for and signed into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act that protects the lives of babies who survive abortions. He signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that allows prosecutors to bring charges against someone who harms a baby in the mother’s womb. He signed into law the Partial Birth Abortion Ban that forced abortion-minded physicians to step back from the brink of infanticide. For all of this and much more, President Bush deserves the cheers of pro-life evangelicals everywhere.
President Bush also made history by appointing two of the most conservative, constructionist judges to the Supreme Court. Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts have proven to be reliable pro-life, pro-family Jurists who see the Constitution as an anchor holding us on course rather than merely an unmoored lifeboat that is driven by every wind of popular opinion.
President Bush’s two biggest perceived failures, the war in Iraq and the Federal Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina are failures only if viewed through the prism of a Left-wing ideology. Granted, Bush was slow to respond to the conditions on the ground after the initial battle for Iraq was won. But in the end, Iraq has held two free elections and even the hyper-critical New York Times has had to admit that things are so much better in Iraq now that families have returned to afternoon outings in public parks and shopkeepers in Baghdad’s market district are enjoying robust business. Twenty-seven million people in Iraq are now free to build a country that rejects terrorism and tyranny and embraces peace and stability. In the closing months of 2008, the Iraqi Parliament officially recognized Christmas as a legal holiday allowing Christians to attend worship services for the first time without fear of government persecution. Opportunities now abound for a strong Christian witness in this former Muslim only society.
Katrina would have been a national disaster regardless of who occupied the White House. The failure of the levy system surrounding New Orleans brought incredible human suffering and a withering death toll. However, blaming President Bush for Katrina is like blaming the weatherman for the thunderstorm that ruined your office picnic. The Federal Emergency Management Agency took the fall but FEMA was never intended to be a first responder rescue operation. FEMA has always been the organization that moved in after the local response to offer low interest loans and to help manage reconstruction. The 30,000 people rescued from rooftops in the early hours following Katrina are an often-overlooked testimony to the rapid response of the federal government. State and local agencies in Louisiana and New Orleans failed miserably to respond. When FEMA did respond by setting up temporary trailers for the homeless and giving out credit cards, they were exploited by people who used the credit cards to party in bars and used the temporary trailers as excuses to refuse to work toward permanent housing. None of this should be laid at President Bush’s door.
For conservatives, President Bush supplied plenty of disappointments. He fumbled the ball completely on immigration siding with those who want amnesty and open borders. He gave us an oxymoron…conservative big government. And he was far too open to those who want America to blend into some form of a global community while sacrificing our American distinctiveness.
But when the dust of partisan politics settles and history has a clear view of President Bush’s eight years in Washington I believe the boos he received at President Obama’s inauguration won’t even be remembered as footnote.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.