Americans are prone to be generous and forgiving -- inclined to pull for the underdog. We see this now as George W. Bush leaves office. There are those who object to the criticisms leveled at the former president, and defend his record despite clear evidence of malfeasance and his historically low public approval ratings. Others contend that we should cease rehashing the past and move on to confront the daunting challenges that lay before us.
The Tri-City Herald (McClatchy), allowing the former president to speak for himself, published the full text of his farewell address to the nation without editorial comment (Sunday, January 18, 2009). The former president in outlining what he sees as his accomplishments and in defending his record told us, “I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind… and followed my conscious.” Perhaps we can take him at his word, but it would be an egregious mistake to sugar coat, excuse, or pass over his record in office over the last eight years, whatever his motivation.
One of our nation’s great historians, Pulitzer Prize winning author, David C. McCullough, tells us that, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”
Whether or not we, as a nation, hold Bush and others in his administration legally accountable for abuses, misconduct, and criminality as some demand, surely we must as a people ensure that history hold him morally accountable. We must learn from our mistakes, for without doubt these are perilous times, and we must reaffirm who we are to ourselves and to the world.