Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bush's Best Bet for Posterity

As he faces his final years in the White House, George W. Bush should take a closer look at what two of his role models did in their second terms as Republican presidents.

Ronald Reagan stopped speechifying about the “Evil Empire” and launched an era of d├ętente with the Soviet Union.

Richard Nixon, as yet unaware that Watergate would bring him down, went to China for what he termed “the week that changed the world.”

Reagan and Nixon were doing what lame-duck presidents do, securing their place in history by trying to get past the partisanship that elected them and taking a longer view of the national interest.

Or, to put it more crudely, they were selling out the extremists whose support they no longer needed and making a bid for posterity.

How will Bush define himself for the ages?

We should have the answer soon after Election Day when the Iraq Study Group makes its report. In responding, will Bush continue as a pitchman for the war or, at long last, do some actual thinking about what Cheney, Rumsfeld et al have wrought and begin to pursue alternatives to the disaster over which he has presided?

In straying from the course, George W. Bush has one last chance to undo some of the damage his Administration has done to our reputation in the world and, at the same time, rewrite the first draft of his legacy to history.

Shortly before he died, Lyndon Johnson gave me his assessment of Richard Nixon. “Not too much here,” LBJ said, pointing to his head and then holding his hand over his heart, “even less here.” Then he lowered it below his belt. “But enough down there.”

LBJ was wrong. If he and Nixon had not been so obsessed with their manhood, or the appearance of it, they could have saved years and lives getting out of Vietnam. History would have been kinder to them than it is now.

Will George W. Bush use his head and heart to avoid repeating those mistakes and follow Reagan’s lead into the sunset of his presidency? Those who detest him will not begrudge the 43rd President an upgrade in history if he stops the loss of American lives and treasure even at this late date.

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