In a reprieve from the horror of the most recent terrorist attack, the nation’s attentions turned to the man who declared the war on terrorism, George W. Bush.
During Thursday’s dedication of his library at Southern Methodist University, nary a word was spoken about the most controversial aspect of his tenure, the Iraq invasion. All living presidents were in attendance and made only generic references to mistakes and regrets familiar to all. Of course Bush famously acknowledges no mistakes or regrets, but rather bequeaths judgment to history and self-doubt to those of lesser conviction.
This observation, though true, is not the whole story of Bush, however. Nearly everyone who has known Bush up closer than a video clip has a different impression of him than what is more popularly accepted. The arrogant, swaggering caricature of the 43rd president was mostly a shield. Bravado of the “bring ’em on” variety was more personal jab than foreign policy statement, though one suspects Bush enjoyed the sound of tiny feet scurrying to keyboards in search of deeper meaning.
Obviously, what a president says and does is fair game for criticism. The way Bush chose to express himself was the way he would be perceived and judged. To act arrogantly is to be arrogant in the public eye. To speak awkwardly is to be awkward.
But in private, Bush was a very different man.
In small groups, he was articulate and confident. When the cameras were off, he was relaxed and natural. Not everyone is made for TV, and this is no criticism. It can be a deficit for public figures, but people who are at one with lights and cameras are sometimes better actors than statesmen.
Everyone is familiar with Bush’s history and performance. What I offer is an anecdote or two that I think reveal what the cameras and critics could not. These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of rounding out a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won’t be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes.