Friday, January 16, 2009

You're No Harry Truman

In his speech to the nation Thursday evening, President George Bush defiantly asserted his list of accomplishments during his eight years in office. But there were hints of wistfulness and melancholy in his tone. And he admitted a few setbacks while in office conceding, "There are a few things I would do differently if given a chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interest of our country in mind."

In February 2003 I traveled with a Telemundo news team to the White House to interview President Bush, one month before the Iraq invasion. War fever had built to a crescendo in Washington, and the White House wanted to make its case to Hispanic Americans.

President Bush entered our interview location, a room on the ground floor of the White House, with swagger and a smile. He was imperious and proud. During the interview he went through his justifications for an invasion, but said the final decision had not been made.

Following the interview the President Bush hung around for a few minutes of banter. I raised the issue of opposition to the pending war from the French, asking him, "What about President Jacques Chirac?" President Bush slapped me on the shoulder with the back of his hand, cocked his head and said, "Don't worry, he'll come around." With that, he quickly said his goodbyes and confidently departed. I turned to my team and said, "We're going to war."

In his speech last night, President Bush said, "I hope you can agree that I was willing to make tough decisions." Well, yes, he has made tough decisions. The problem is that he often made the wrong decisions. And worse, once decided, the decisions he made were poorly executed.

The Iraq war is a classic case of the wrong decision that was also poorly executed. Deregulation of the financial industry is another example. And, in the aftermath of Katrina, wrong decisions were made and the execution was painfully inept. The violation of civil liberties and his authorization of harsh interrogation techniques were terrible decisions that have undermined America's core values and founding principles. These are but a few examples.

"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions," President Bush said, "but there can be little debate about the results, America has gone seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil." I felt a back handed slap against my shoulder as he spoke these words. President Bush seemed to be saying, "let's see what the next guy can do."

Today there is much debate about America's future. The country is mired in two wars, a devastating financial collapse, a recession, the Middle East is in turmoil, Osama bin Laden is still loose, and America's moral standing in the world has been severely eroded.

Most Americans support President-elect Barack Obama. He has already displayed intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to listen to strong voices and diverse opinions. His calm and cool style of leadership is reassuring. Hopefully we are entering a period of smart decisions, accountability and well-executed management. America's future is at stake.

President Bush apparently wants to be compared to President Harry Truman, who was also very unpopular when he left office. Yet after his retirement scholars came to judge Truman more positively. He made tough decisions and, as a result, he is now considered one of America's finest presidents.

Mr. Bush, you are no Harry Truman.

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