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Blue The Nation | August 23, 2014

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George W. Bush Does Something Smart, Republicans Ignore Him

George W. Bush Does Something Smart, Republicans Ignore Him
Jonathan Nathan

A lot of people on the left think George W. Bush was and is either evil or stupid. I decided some years ago that I don’t agree with either notion. What he was, I believe, was a very misguided idealist who allowed himself to be manipulated and used for some very evil, very stupid purposes. But it’s not an evil man, or a stupid one, who establishes more protected marine wilderness than any other President in history. Nor is it an evil man, or a stupid one, who tries to push the Republican Party out of the Dark Ages on immigration reform.

Indeed, I think it was immigration reform that finally broke the man. After carrying the GOP’s water for years on unjustified wars, controversial expansions of government surveillance powers, catastrophic damage to the nation’s environmental protections, a gutting of social service programs, and countless attacks on women and the LGBT community, George W. Bush believed that they would follow his lead on just this one thing. But no matter how he pleaded and begged and prodded and threatened them, the Republican caucuses in Congress refused to budge.

Comprehensive immigration reform, probably the one thing Bush most wanted to accomplish when he was first inaugurated in 2001, went down to defeat. And George W. Bush was never the same. You could see it in the way he looked, the way he carried himself, the way he suddenly seemed to age a decade in the space of six months. You could hear it in his voice, which lost all of its fire and vigor. Everything about him screamed that he had been defeated. And when he left office, he left politics. He hardly ever talked to anyone about his Presidency. Even when he did, it was only to hawk his book or his Presidential library. None of it rang true. He was selling a story, not speaking from the heart.

But then, just yesterday, George Bush the politician, the believer, the advocate…that George W. Bush made an appearance. It was in Dallas, at a citizenship ceremony. “I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the positive contributions immigrants make to our country,” the former President said, a direct rebuke to a Republican narrative that is anything but benevolent in spirit, one which has tended to cast undocumented immigrants as dangerous and even wicked. “We must remember that the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard to support their families and practice their faith and lead responsible lives,” he continued.

While Bush was clear that he would not be wading into policy specifics, it’s worth noting that the bills he put forward during his Administration were very similar to what Obama and the Democrats are proposing now, and were even more liberal in many ways. And towards the conclusion of his remarks, he really sounded like the compassionate conservative he’d claimed to be on the campaign trail in 2000. He emphasized that an influx of immigration does not represent an invasion, but is rather ”a sign of a confident and successful nation…Our generation must ensure that America remains a beacon of liberty and the most hopeful society that the world has ever known. We must always be proud to welcome people as fellow Americans.”

Poignantly, Bush’s remarks took place at the same time as top House Republicans met behind closed doors and decided not to take up the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. Just as they rejected Bush’s plans as too liberal in the mid-2000s, they rejected the Democrats’ plan now.

Watching the video of Bush’s speech, I wondered if he really believed that “a positive resolution to the debate” was possible. I wondered if his true feelings were represented by something else he said, something which may not have only been uttered in reference to immigration. He said it heavily, and in the manner of a man who does not believe it so much as he knows it.

“The system is broken.”