Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Trump needs to find better speechwriters

I feel the need to cut Donald John Trump a little bit of slack, so bear with me.

He gets pilloried for the speeches he delivers. Why? Because they don’t sound sincere. He reads them while seeming to squirm while he recites someone else’s words.

Now, for the slack.

Every president has a staff of speechwriters. Writing a speech for a politician is the trickiest of rhetorical businesses. The guts of a speechwriter’s task lies in his or her ability to write words as if they are originated by the individual who speaks them. 

As the nation pays tribute to the late President George H.W. Bush, we are recalling some of the words he spoke to the nation that elected him to lead it. Much of that high-minded rhetoric he delivered came from speechwriters. I think of one in particular, Peggy Noonan, who’s now a Wall Street Journal columnist. Noonan is one of the premier wordsmiths around. She writes golden prose in her column — and she delivered the goods while writing for President Reagan and then President Bush.

David Gerson is another notable speechwriter. He now writes for the Washington Post, but he once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Gerson managed to maintain W’s essential character while penning remarks he would deliver in the wake of 9/11.

Some presidents are compulsive editors. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were known to edit the daylights out of speech drafts. President Obama’s speeches often comprised soaring rhetoric. Do you think the president wrote every word? Of course not! He, too, had a speechwriting team at his disposal.

Back to Trump.

Where the current president seems to fall short in the delivery of his prepared remarks is that whoever pens those words for him do not capture the personality of the man. One can see and hear the difference the instant Trump veers from the prepared text and launches into one of his off-the-rails riffs.

It’s been said that Trump did little to prepare for the presidency after he was elected and during the transition to the day he took the oath of office.

The president keeps seeking to assure us he surrounded himself “with the best people” and that he knows the “best words.” I do not believe he has done the former and he certainly doesn’t qualify as an extemporaneous orator.

Let’s call it Air Force One, even though it really isn’t

The big blue-and-white Boeing 747 that is carrying the late President George H.W. Bush back to Washington, D.C., for his state funeral has a new name.

I’m going to refer to it as Air Force One, even though in the strict definition of the term, it isn’t. For this flight it is known as Special Air Mission 41.

Air Force One is referred to any aircraft that is carrying the president of the United States. Piper Cub, Stealth Bomber, Gulfstream jet, Boeing 747, it doesn’t matter. If one of its passengers is the president, it is Air Force One.

The jet is carrying as well the former president’s children, including the 43rd president, George W. Bush.

I have been struck by TV news commentators referring to the jet as Air Force One, as if it’s how you refer to the jet at all times.

Well, I’m going to stray from decorum and refer as well to the big jet that is taking Bush 41 back to the place where he toiled for eight years as vice president and four years as head of state.

This great — and good — man has earned one final ride aboard Air Force One.

Two quick Bush stories tell a bit about these men

I want to share two quick stories I have about men named Bush.

The first one is about George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States who died Friday at age 94.

President Bush went to Amarillo in 2007 to speak to the community about leadership. They had a reception and lunch at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Because I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News at the time, I got invited. We had lunch, then we got to stand in a long line.

At the head of that line was President Bush. He was meeting and greeting those who got to stand in that line. It was your classic “grip and grin” session.

My time came. I walked up to Bush and said simply as I extended my hand, “I just want to thank you, Mr. President, for your long and distinguished service to this country.” He bowed his head slightly as he said, “Thank you for that, sir.” We exchanged a couple more thoughts, then we turned to face the photographer who took our picture.

We were gripping and grinning at the camera. I cherish that picture to this day. Why? I had this feeling in the moment that the former president actually appreciated the expression of thanks from a complete stranger — me. Believe this: I offered it sincerely and with maximum gratitude.

A dozen years earlier, in 1995, I had the pleasure of meeting the newly elected governor of Texas, George W. Bush. I flew from Amarillo to Austin to meet with Gov. Bush in his Capitol Building office.

I arrived at the Capitol and found my way to the governor’s office. I was shown the way to the governor’s receiving room just outside the actual office. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and I told him that one of my sons had expressed many times his admiration for the governor’s father, the former president.

Gov. Bush nodded and said, “Your son has picked a wonderful man to admire.”

I was told I would get 30 minutes with the governor. I interviewed him on the record for about an hour plus 20 minutes.

The younger Bush clearly adored his father, whose pride in his son was well-known.

Now, to give you an idea of how effective a politician George W. Bush had become, there’s this addendum:

Gov. Bush was running for re-election in 1998. He came to Amarillo to be interviewed by the Globe-News editorial board. He walked briskly into our conference room, pointed at me and said in a loud voice, “There’s a good man. So, tell me, how’s your son?”

“W” learned well from Bush 41.

Bush 41’s legacy contains considerable irony

George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency was cut short by perhaps one of the more ironic twists of political fate in recent U.S. history.

President Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was elected in 1988 and sought re-election in 1992. He was victimized by the wisdom of a decision to back away from an ill-considered promise delivered from the podium of the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

“Read my lips,” the then-vice president intoned at the ’88 GOP convention, “no new taxes.” The crowd erupted. They cheered. They whooped and hollered.

But wait! After he took office in 1989, the economy began to slow down. It fell into a fairly deep recession. What was the president going to do about it? He retracted his “no new taxes” pledge and got Congress to do the very thing he said he wouldn’t do . . . ever!

The 1990 deficit reduction act proved to be a fiscally sound — and politically dangerous — policy decision. It created a rebellion among the Republican Party caucus in Congress. As USA Today noted in its editorial, the measure laid the groundwork for the budget surpluses that would follow.

The irony of it is that the economy began sputtering back to life in early 1992. By then the die had been cast, to Bush’s ultimate dismay. The Democrats ran a young governor, Bill Clinton, against him. Then in jumped the Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot to muddy it up some more.

Clinton was elected in 1992. Bush blamed Perot for costing him re-election, but in truth Clinton was likely to win without a third candidate in the contest.

President Bush’s decision to renege on his tax pledge — if only modestly — proved to be his undoing. The voters rendered a harsh, and arguably unfair, decision in 1992. They said a promise made from a convention podium should be as good as gold.

It saddens me as I look back on that time.

It also saddens me that another decision, to end the Persian Gulf War without toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, led to a horrendous decision by one of Bush 41’s successors, his own son, President George W. Bush.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. President Bush declared the aggressive “will not stand.” He went to the United Nations, gathered up an international alliance of nations, directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to craft a strategy to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait. Then we went to war.

It ended quickly. The Iraqis fled from the mighty onslaught led by U.S. forces. Then the commander in chief made the decision to end it. Mission accomplished. The Iraqis had been tossed out. Saddam Hussein remained in power.

But the decision to end the war, to keep faith with the U.N. resolution authorizing it resulted in total containment of Iraq and of Saddam Hussein. There appeared to be a semblance of stability settling in the region.

But then Bush left office. Bill Clinton served two terms and he left office in 2001. We got hit by the terrorists on 9/11, and President Bush 43 sent us to war against the terrorists.

Then, for reasons that still baffle many of us, President Bush decided to topple Saddam Hussein. We invaded Iraq in March 2003. We captured Saddam Hussein, put him on trial and executed him. We were looking for weapons of mass destruction, but didn’t find any.

The question persists to this day: Why did we go to war against Saddam Hussein? Yes, I know international intelligence agencies said the Iraqis possessed WMD. They were tragically wrong.

Oh, the stability that Bush 41 forged with his decision to not invade Iraq? It was gone. The Islamic State emerged from the chaos. We’re still at war.

History has delivered some judgments already on Bush 41’s presidency. I trust historians will take note of the irony that befell this good man’s time as leader of the world’s greatest nation.

‘W,’ Clinton showed us how divided government can work

Since I’ve already noted the arrival in Washington this coming January of a form of “divided government,” I feel the need to offer a two brief examples of how it works.

One party controls one branch of government, the other party controls the other. Such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee gridlock or incessant bickering, bitching and backbiting.

Donald J. Trump is going to report for work in January with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives; his fellow Republicans will retain control of the Senate. It won’t be a fun time to govern. It doesn’t need to be this way.

I give you two examples, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Before he became president, Bush was governor of Texas. He was elected in 1994. The Republican governor took office with a solidly Democratic Legislature in power. Unlike the man who now is president, he didn’t insult, defame or denigrate legislative Democrats. He learned quickly how to forge alliances — even friendships — with those on the other side.

Two men became his BFFs — before the term became widely accepted. They were the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the crotchety, curmudgeonly Democrat who controlled the Texas Senate and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, the affable Democrat who ran the People’s House.

They formed a trio who respected each other’s skill and who managed to notch some notable legislative victories among them. They sought to give public school teachers a pay raise and increase test scores among students, they dipped into the state’s budget surplus to enact a tax cut, they furthered the push to invest in renewable energy resources.

Two Democrats learned to work with a Republican governor who, after all, had defeated a Democratic incumbent, the late Ann Richards, in a bitter campaign.

But “W” didn’t denigrate his legislative foes. He worked with them, understanding the need to cooperate when possible. To their credit, Bullock and Laney  understood precisely the same thing.

Bill Clinton watched the Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994, two years after his election to his first term as president. Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House, Bob Dole rose to majority leader in the Senate.

Did the president let that loss of congressional power dissuade him? Hardly. He, Gingrich and Dole managed over time to work together to accomplish a budgetary miracle: a balanced federal budget, the first one of them in about 30 years.

They understood each other, just as “W” understood his legislative partners in Austin.

What lies ahead for the next Congress and the president as they embark on the second half of the president’s term? The indications are that it’s going to be a rough and rocky ride. It doesn’t help that Donald Trump doesn’t have the political chops needed to navigate and manage a political agenda with discipline and finesse. Nor does it help that he has bruised and battered so many congressmen and women with his insults and nasty pronouncements on Twitter.

Oh, and he’s that got that “Russia thing” hanging over his head.

I wish it were different. I fear we’re headed down the slipperiest of slopes. It need not be this way.

Waiting for unqualified praise of POTUS

I have to make a confession.

It is that whenever I feel the need to offer an encouraging word about Donald J. Trump I am drawn to the need to somehow hedge on it, to offer a qualifier of sorts. Maybe one day, and I have no idea when, I’ll be able to offer praise to the president without having to call attention to all the negative things I’ve said about him.

He recently announced a criminal justice reform notion that would give federal judges more flexibility in handing out sentences; they currently are bound by mandatory sentencing policies. I think the overhaul is a good thing. I said so, too, with praise for the president. But, damn! I had to mention a pledge I made that I would say something good when he merited it; that’s the qualifier, man.

I truly want to get past that. Sadly, I have little hope that this president is going to allow me to do that.

President Bush, shortly after the 2008 election, brought all the former presidents to the White House to greet the president-elect, Barack H. Obama. President Bush wished the new man “success.” Sure, he opposed his election, but he told the president-elect that if he succeeds, the country succeeds.

I know I should be a bigger man that I’ve been at times with regard to the current president. I just cannot help myself. My distaste for his ascending to the first public office he ever sought is palpable and visceral. I’m not proud of it.

I merely acknowledge it.

This blog will continue to offer criticism of the president. I am afraid the critical comments will vastly outnumber the positive comments for well past the foreseeable future.

Just maybe, though, that day might arrive and I’ll be able to offer an encouraging word without referencing the discouraging words.

Looking back at bin Laden raid

The nation has been talking in recent days about the commando raid that took out Osama bin Laden.

I thought I’d share with you a video of President Obama announcing “to the nation and the world” the death of the terrorist leader. Here it is:

Perhaps the most relevant point I want to emphasize here is the president’s explanation of the tireless work done by anti-terrorism experts working for two presidential administrations. President Bush’s team began the hunt for bin Laden shortly after 9/11, then handed it off to President Obama’s team.

It took time, patience and perseverance for our intelligence community to find bin Laden in that compound in Pakistan.

Yet there came the unfounded and idiotic criticism from Donald J. Trump that the team that took out bin Laden should have done it “much sooner.” He laid the criticism at the feet of retired Admiral William McRaven, the man who coordinated the effort that resulted in bin Laden’s death in May 2011.

Trump doesn’t know what transpired between 9/11 and the raid that eliminated bin Laden. So his criticism of McRaven is tasteless, ignorant and despicable.

I thought you might want to hear from Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, how this huge event came to pass.

The warrior responds to POTUS

Back and forth they go.

The president and the decorated Navy SEAL are at each other’s throats. I’m pulling for the SEAL.

Donald Trump — as is his tendency — fired off a totally inappropriate tweet challenging whether the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command could have taken out Osama bin Laden “sooner” than he did.

That commander is retired Admiral William McRaven, on whose watch U.S. commandos killed the 9/11 mastermind in a firefight in Pakistan.

McRaven had the temerity to declare that Trump’s attack on the media presents the “greatest threat” to the nation. Trump responded with that hideous Twitter taunt about the bin Laden raid.

McRaven has answered the president. He stands by his comment about Trump’s attack on the media. Trump also had accused McRaven of “backing” Hillary Clinton. McRaven said “no.” He isn’t a fan of the former Democratic presidential candidate. He also said he backs all presidents, because he respects the office. McRaven also notes in his response that he served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama while leading the Special Operations Command.

He told Trump, “When you undermine the people’s right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands.”

If only the president understood the damage he does with his reckless and feckless rhetoric.

‘Florida’ becomes new synonym for election incompetence

Move over, Texas. You — I mean “we” — are being replaced as the butt of jokes related to election incompetence and possible corruption.

There once was a time when Texas was known for dead people casting ballots in, say, tiny Duval County in the southern part of the state. It was thought that the cadaver vote vaulted Lyndon Baines Johnson into Congress.

As a transplant who moved to Texas more than three decades ago, I am not proud of the state’s former reputation as a cesspool for political corruption. In that regard, I feel sorry for the conscientious Floridians who now are living with the same level of skepticism.

Broward County, Fla., is in the news again. It isn’t good.

Trouble looms for 2020

They’re trying to determine the winner of two red-hot races in Florida: the campaign for governor and for U.S. Senate. The attention focuses on Broward County, home to around 2 million residents. Thus, they cast a lot of votes in that south Florida county.

They can’t seem to get ’em counted. There might be an automatic recount. Or maybe it’ll be a manual recount.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott holds a narrow lead over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — at the moment! GOP U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is barely ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Scott and DeSantis have (more or less) declared victory. Nelson and Gillum aren’t conceding. They’re waiting … and waiting … and waiting for all the ballots to be counted.

Of course, this is far from the first time Florida has been at the epicenter of questionable electoral issues. You remember the 2000 presidential election, yes? It came down to an aborted recount of the contest between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Albert Gore Jr. The winner would rake in the state’s Electoral College votes and win the presidency. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up ordering the vote count stopped and when it did, Gov. Bush had 537 more votes — out of more than 5.8 million ballots cast — than Vice President Gore. The court ruling came on a 5-4 vote; the five GOP appointed justices voted to stop the count, with the four Democratic appointed justices dissenting.

Well, the rest — as they say — is history.

This resident of Texas is glad to have my state kicked off the (alleged) voter fraud pedestal.

As a patriotic American, though, I do hope that our fellow Americans in Florida can cure what ails that state’s electoral process. Our political process needs to be free of this kind of turmoil.

I just pray the Russians aren’t involved.

We have presidents … and we have Trump

I have been listening to comparisons between Donald Trump and his three immediate predecessors, namely their reaction to extreme acts of violence.

The preceding presidents knew how to rally a nation, to speak to our better angels, to show strength and resolve in the face of tragedy.

President Clinton dealt with the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. He urged us to ignore the angry voices that prompted Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Murrah Federal Building, killing 167 people, including many children.

President Bush stood on the rubble at Ground Zero immediately after 9/11. He took a bullhorn, threw his arm around a New York City firefighter and told the nation that the terrorists “who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”

President Obama wiped away tears as he spoke of the slaughter of 20 first- and second-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Now we have Donald Trump. Someone or some group is sending pipe bombs to Democratic politicians, a donor, a former AG, a cable news outlet and an legendary film actor/political activist. Does the president demonstrate any sense of fear or compassion for the recipients of these packages?

Oh, no! He blames Democrats for fomenting the anger, along with the “mainstream media,” which he says is guilty of sending out “fake news.”

Then he pokes fun at calls to be more “civil” in leading the public political discourse.

The current president simply doesn’t measure up to the three men who preceded him in performing this fundamental duty of his high office: unifying and healing a nation in distress.