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October 15th, 2018

Insight

A Course Correction For American Politics: Have George W. Bush Teach A Course On Dignity

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published October 17, 2017

A Course Correction For American Politics: Have George W. Bush Teach A Course On Dignity

Lost in the media avalanche that buried Harvey Weinstein last week was this news item: Hillary Clinton reportedly in talks with Columbia University to take on some kind of professorial role.

Let's dispense with the knee-jerk comedy: will her husband help choose which coeds take the class; will Hillary use a Columbia.edu email address or correspond on her own server? The papers she may archive at Columbia: will that include missing emails?

If you want to dive into the deep end of the snark pool, try this Howie Carr column.

Here's my question: if she accepts the Columbia gig, does Hillary plan to preach or teach? Will she actually delve into the lives of her students (some, we can assume, aspiring to be the next HRC), or is this a drive-by job -- an easy paycheck, a little image rehabilitation and something to do between giving speeches, stumping for Democrats and grousing about the 2016 election.

In a better world, there's another member of a political dynasty who should be teaching.

George W. Bush.

Why the 43rd President? Because it's his post-presidency (in Bushspeak: "the afterlife") that serves as a model for dignity and sincerity.

Since leaving office in 2009, Bush has done the following of note:

  • Formed a global public-private partnership, through the Bush Institute, to combat cervical and breast cancer on the African continent.
  • Bicycled with, and painted portraits (64 of them in this book) of military veterans to raise public awareness of the plight of wounded warriors.
  • Wrote a heartfelt book about the other President Bush: 41: A Portrait Of My Father.

And perhaps the great feat of all: for eight very long years, 43 kept quiet - and kept out of the political fray (although he did mildly jab Trump with regard to immigration back in February).

I've been thinking more about Bush 43 as I watch Harvey Weinstein melt down in a manner that's a little Wizard of Oz and a whole lot Frankenstein.

It's not the first time that the world has leaned of the sordid ways of Hollywood - the casting-couch culture, the misogynistic treatment of women, the hypocrisy of entertainment elites who lament the world's woes but turn a blind to cruelty and injustice in their own workplace (on that note, Weinstein's expulsion this weekend from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science strikes is the embodiment of people living in glass houses with giant rock collections).

Weinstein, the man is vulgar and repulsive - a swine getting his comeuppance. But L'Affaire Weinstein is the reminder of what a giant political rut in which American politics currently exists.

If you feel the need to shout from the rooftops (or troll on social media) about Weinstein's awfulness, can you do so if you voted for Trump? To do so was to overlook all sorts of bad behavior.

Then again, how high is the moral perch for Clinton supporters? To vote for her likewise meant giving a pass on all sorts of moral failings.

Look around the political class and the question is: who passes the character test? Which incumbents follow the Bush model of taking the high road? Too often, it seems, the politics of the moment get the better of our leaders.

Why the 43rd President? Because it's his post-presidency (in Bushspeak: "the afterlife") that serves as a model for dignity and sincerity.

Since leaving office in 2009, Bush has done the following of note:

  • Formed a global public-private partnership, through the Bush Institute, to combat cervical and breast cancer on the African continent.
  • Bicycled with, and painted portraits (64 of them in this book) of military veterans to raise public awareness of the plight of wounded warriors.
  • Wrote a heartfelt book about the other President Bush: 41: A Portrait Of My Father.

And perhaps the great feat of all: for eight very long years, 43 kept quiet - and kept out of the political fray (although he did mildly jab Trump with regard to immigration back in February).

I've been thinking more about Bush 43 as I watch Harvey Weinstein melt down in a manner that's a little Wizard of Oz and a whole lot Frankenstein.

It's not the first time that the world has leaned of the sordid ways of Hollywood - the casting-couch culture, the misogynistic treatment of women, the hypocrisy of entertainment elites who lament the world's woes but turn a blind to cruelty and injustice in their own workplace (on that note, Weinstein's expulsion this weekend from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science strikes is the embodiment of people living in glass houses with giant rock collections).

Weinstein, the man is vulgar and repulsive - a swine getting his comeuppance. But L'Affaire Weinstein is the reminder of what a giant political rut in which American politics currently exists.

If you feel the need to shout from the rooftops (or troll on social media) about Weinstein's awfulness, can you do so if you voted for Trump? To do so was to overlook all sorts of bad behavior.

Then again, how high is the moral perch for Clinton supporters? To vote for her likewise meant giving a pass on all sorts of moral failings.

Look around the political class and the question is: who passes the character test? Which incumbents follow the Bush model of taking the high road? Too often, it seems, the politics of the moment get the better of our leaders.

Here's an example from here in my California: Sen. Kamala Harris.

To her credit, Harris paid a frontline visit to the Northern California fires this weekend.

To her discredit, she offered this tweet: "I've personally confirmed Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke that ICE will not be conducting immigration enforcement in impacted areas."

Never mind that is came a day after an ICE spokesman has said that a suspension already was in effect in the fire areas.

And it begs the question of which interests Harris more: figuring ways for the federal government to lend a hand, or scoring points on a contentious issue as she ramps up her national profile?

Another symptom of the character problem: John McCain, who may buck his party on tax reform as he did Obamacare repeal - supposedly, because he's worried about deficits and lack of middle-class relief.

That's fine, except that the history of McCain and tax cuts is dogged by political convenience. The Arizona senator voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 (only two GOP senators defied the new Republican president in 2001 - one being the guy who lost to Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries; three did so in 2003).

In 2004, on NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said he didn't support extending all the cuts, though he did indicate that he's make an exception for middle-class tax cuts.

Then, in 2006, with the next presidential election on the horizon, McCain voted to keep the Bush tax cuts. And during the lead-up to his second presidential run, McCain talked up the economic benefits of lower taxes.

Now, McCain may oppose Trump plan. Is his calculus the perceived shortcomings of the plan, or is he trying to shore up his maverick legacy?

In this regard, maybe Professor Bush should do his lecturing not on a Texas campus but instead in the nation's capital. Bring Republicans and Democrats into the same classroom - that includes members of Congress, past presidents and those who sought the office (and, yes, Donald Trump) - to hear about the pursuit of good deeds rather than more base instincts.

Here's what Bush 43 told my Hoover Institution colleague Peter Robinson in an interview done five summers ago:

"I don't want to undermine our president, whoever is president, and a former president can do that, and I think it's bad for the presidency itself. And so I'm pretty content.

"[I] have found that life after the presidency is awesome,"

Awesome. It beats the awfulness of today's incumbency.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.

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