Portraits of Courage

portraits-of-courage-cover-george-w-bush

I mentioned the other week that I had pre-ordered President George W. Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, and now that I’ve finally devoted some time to it I can wholeheartedly endorse it. This compilation of more than ninety Wounded Warriors painted by their former Commander in Chief is very touching and well done. You will be inspired by their stories and you will gain a greater understanding of the painter/author through this work.

Most of the men and women in the book befriended Bush at one of the annual golf tournaments or mountain biking events he hosts for service personnel and it is clear that he is humbled and honored by their friendship. The more I look at the paintings he has done, the more I can see the time and effort Bush put into capturing each individual’s unique character, and the more I admire this greatly maligned and casually dismissed world leader.

The title, Portraits of Courage, is clearly a play on, or an homage to, Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book by then Senator John Kennedy, which tells the stories of past senators who made unpopular decisions they believed to be right and suffered for it. I think it’s safe to suppose that Bush sees himself in the same vein as the politicians Kenney admired; as a man who will be vindicated by history. It is often said that history depends on who writes it but it is equally important who reads it and what they choose to focus on in the records.

For example, when assessing Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, will future generations recall comedian Bill Maher ridiculing the President for comparing Saddam to Hitler? “Saddam Hussein is Hitler like Oasis was The Beatles.” Or will they look to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who also compared Saddam’s brutality to the genocide of the Nazi’s and directly told Bush, “Mr. President, you have a moral obligation to act against evil.”

When parsing out blame for the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will people fifty or a hundred years from now place more weight on the photo of Bush looking down on the disaster from Air Force One, allegedly detached and unsympathetic to the sorrow below:

Bush Katrina airforce one

Or will they find the sea of unused school buses to be more telling about the failure of local officials to act in the first place?

Katrina-school-buses

No one can be certain how these interpretations will play out but it does appear that Bush’s post-presidential years will play a large role in any final assessments. Only the most cynical and unrealistic critics can discount the level of commitment that Bush has demonstrated to the troops who sacrificed so much for his decisions. One does not spend hours, weeks, months, and years, getting to know people and painting their portraits as a PR stunt or a passing fancy. Clearly, Bush believes in the choices he made, yet he cares deeply about those who paid the price for them. And, unlike JFK, who merely supervised the writing of his book on courage – leaving the bulk of the text to be penned by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen – W. has put his heart into every brush stroke and word of the courage he depicts.

Negative reviews of Bush’s book, or more so, complaints about his public, “rehabilitation,” thanks to the book and recent positive press, keep popping up in my Google newsfeed. For many left-leaning pundits the temptation to slip into the same old mantras (e.g. “Bush lied,” “Bush is stupid”) is simply too great. Thankfully, we need not follow their emotional lead.

president-bush-painting

Believe Me

I was going to do my next post about President Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, or the wonderful new PBS miniseries I watch this week, Africa’s Great Civilizations, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. And I wasn’t even thinking I’d write anything today but then I woke up to the latest craziness from our so-called President and I was like, “Wow! Just, Wow!” watching the reaction of Trump Supporters on Twitter to his reckless and disgusting behavior.

The madness began with a series of tweets from @realdonaldtrump accusing former President Obama of tapping his phone, Trump Towers, and who knows what else.

trump-tweets-wiretap

After making these very serious charges, with no evidence or source cited whatsoever, he then went after Arnold Schwarzenegger; because a petty feud over the future of The Apprentice TV show is apparently every bit as  important as allegations that Obama abused his power.

trump-tweet-arnold-schwarzenegger

Some people, myself included, pointed out the fact that Trump’s baseless accusations are the very definition of McCarthyism, but unfair and unbalanced Sean Hannity was quick to accept the “truth” as the Dear Leader told it, asking the infamous Watergate question:

sean-hannity-wiretap-trump

A wide host of similarly fanatical and uncritical Trump Supporters followed suit. @bradcrain seemed to be convinced that Obama has already been convicted and the “DEMS” just couldn’t handle it.

brad-crain-wiretap

In this up is down version of reality, Trump’s people are the ones showing their true colors. Rude, willfully blind, and childish colors. Honestly, what kind of people read unsubstantiated allegations and say to themselves, “How can I best use a meme to spread this disinformation?” I don’t know but Riya sharma and @chrisk2000 are two more of them:

busted-meme

warrantless-wiretapping-meme

This is the same pool of people who label everyone who disagrees with Trump as a, “liberal” or “communist,” including conservatives like myself, and then laughs at us for being unable to think properly. Truly crazy.

Worst of all are individuals like @BigStick2013, who embellish fake news with their own lies.

bigstick2013-fake-news

I told Mr. Drain The Swamp that there was “NO news” in the article he linked to, and certainly nothing about anything found at Trump Tower or the White House. All the article did was recaps Trump’s tweets and concluded that, “It is not clear what information Trump based his Tweets on.” For daring to point out the truth to BigStick Swamp Drainer, he blocked me.

What is happening here is a very sick manipulation of our already polarized public, designed only to further divide us and do harm to America, and every patriot should condemn it! Instead, disingenuous fools like Buck Sexton (who’s apparently a radio talk show host) are trying to spin this in ever more creative ways.

buck-sexton-silly-wiretap-tweet

  1. Trump did not claim that Obama used FISA (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) against him. Trump claimed wiretapping of an unspecified nature, carried out by unspecified agents, and told to him by unknown sources.
  2. If the FISA Court was used to tap Trump or any of his people, that would have come from a Justice Department investigation, which would need to make their case to the FISA Judges and show evidence that Trump and/or his team had done something wrong.
  3. There is no universal agreement in the press that Trump conspired with the Kremlin but it has been clearly established by the intelligence community and outside security experts that Russian hackers did try to interfere in our election. Even many of Trump’s key people have admitted this.
  4. There was zero evidence offered from Trump in his very unclear charges.

In short, the items Buck is pretending to equate are not equal. Not even close. Sadly, this is the kind of intellectual sloppiness that passes for logic in far too many public debates and a Yuge reason why we have a President Trump in the first place. I can only hope that we will learn from this and do better in the future.

Let’s get on with the inevitable and appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the allegations against the President and the allegations made by the President. I am confident that his uniquely horrible character will be exposed in the end, Believe Me!

Autopsy of a Farewell

As we quickly approach the period that future generations will refer to as, “The Dark Time,” and we imagine the phrase, “Disgraced Former President Trump,” will enter the lexicon quickly, we could all do for a little hope and positivity.

President Obama’s Farewell Address the other night was a great speech. Thoughtful, inspiring, emotional, heartfelt. My one big criticism is that it may have been too long, with too many points, neatly wrapped up in a, “Yes We Can,” ribbon that left me wonder what it is we can actually do?

I’ve had this same conflicted feeling since I first saw Barack Obama on the national stage (specifically the 2004 DNC Stage, where he gave the Keynote Address). I could tell right away this guy would run for the Presidency but I didn’t think it would be so quick and certainly didn’t think he could win that handily against the Clinton Machine. I could not support him because of fundamental disagreements about the role of government and my belief that he lacked the executive experience, or significant DC experience, to do the job effectively. Nevertheless, I liked the man and I have liked him more as time has passed. In part because of who he is and in part because I am sickened by the often racist and stupid attacks upon. His ability to hold his head high and continue to set a good example in the face of such adversity is truly remarkable.

“Optics” matter and I am glad that my first son was born under the first African American President. I remember having a few black heroes when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s but they were athletes, like Muhammad Ali and Rod Carew, or pop stars and comedians, like Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy. They were never men revered for their intellect or gravitas, and I never saw black people as leaders or holders of real power. What a different and better starting point this has given my boy. Without a doubt it has helped him to see all people as truly equal. Sadly, my second son, and countless other children, will likely become aware of what a President is through the funhouse mirror version of the Trump Administration; a key leader of the racist and stupid “birther” movement and a glaring example of everything I do not want my children to be.

Practical results also matter. In some ways President Obama surprised me, taking out a great many foreign jihadis, including the bin Laden raid, deep into the sovereign territory of our sometimes ally, Pakistan. More often than not, however, Obama’s results were lackluster at best. The Iran Deal was one of two key moves on which he bet his legacy and I fear it will not play out well. Arguably there were no good options on what to do with Iran but that won’t matter in the final assessment for most people when the deal goes bad. The President’s other major legacy move, of course, was Obamacare. On this one I was befuddled from the start. The President seemed to let his Congressional Colleagues stuff everything they wanted into the bill without any leadership or objections from the White House, creating a mountain of legislation that 99.9978% of us still don’t understand. And he did all this with zero support from Republicans, which was truly unprecedented for a legal initiative of that size and scope. Did more people get coverage? Yes. Did everyone I know see their healthcare expenses rise while their coverage got worse? Also, Yes. And now what? Will the “repeal and replace” keep those 20 million new people covered? Will Obama be able to argue that he at least got us that far? I don’t know. It’s such a mess.

You can argue that the Republicans were obstructionists, which is true, but then you get into this chicken and the egg game that goes back to the Bush Administration, and the Clinton Administration, and on and on, with back and forth, often petty, “They started it,” crap. Maybe, just maybe, after we live through the worst possible example of public behavior from our new Twitter Troll and Chief, we may swing back to a more civil discourse in the future but that doesn’t change the fact that Obama took the job, as W. Bush before him, to be a “uniter,” and neither proved to be up to the task. Maybe the real problem is that we expect too much from our leaders and do not demand enough from ourselves. That was certainly one of the points that I think President Obama was trying to make in his Farewell Address and certainly something I hope we all take to heart.

Never Remember

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For the past 15 years I have been saying, “Never Forget,” though admittedly less and less often with each passing 9-11. This year, despite it being a milestone anniversary, it felt like the day went by with little notice in the media. Here’s someone reading one of the almost 3,000 names, there’s the bell ringing for one of the six moments of silence, now on to other news. How far we have come from those early days when the nation was nearly one and flags were flying everywhere you turned. I remember even months after that horrible day I went to a Minnesota Wild’s hockey game and everyone stood for the National Anthem with a heavy heart; you knew what was on their minds; you could feel the pain and pride in the room.

The changing face of 9-11 was inevitable, I know. There was a dramatic shift for me seven years ago when my son was born on the eighth anniversary – a sure sign that life goes on – but that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten. I will remember those moments in the core of my being until the day I die. The clock radio waking me up with news that, “A second plane had just hit the building.” What building? What plane? Then watching live on TV as these great monuments to human ingenuity came crashing down in a testament to human depravity. It took me a minute (it felt like an hour) to comprehend what I was seeing. The most surreal moment of my life, where my mind could genuinely not understand what my eyes had just witnessed.

The phrase, “Never Forget,” has come to mean different things to different people. For some it is all about the victims; never forget the lives lost. For others it is an object lesson is arrogance; never forget that we must be vigilant, or something to that effect. Never forget that the world is filled with bad people; with evil. Never forget that we stand for something – a shining city on a hill – and that makes us a target. Then there are the more despicable interpretations; that America is the true evil in the world and we deserved it; that the U.S. Government, President Bush, or some sinister cabal in the Intelligence Community did it; and, of course, the ever-popular, “Jews did it.” Then there are the recriminations about what should have been done to stop this and what should not have been done in response to it; every armchair general and talking head can tell you all about it.

What struck me most about 9-11 this year, however, is the fact that an ever-growing number of people will never remember it, because they didn’t live it. We can command them to, “Never Forget,” as people have long admonished us to do with the Holocaust but learning is not remembering. When you study traumatic historical events like this, the outcome is known at the outset; the fear and confusion isn’t felt, it’s intellectualized; and the players involved are reduced to characters in a book or on a movie screen. I’m not saying that it’s pointless to learn history – anyone who knows me at all knows that I love the subject – but we need to accept its limitations.

That’s the America I know

Did you hear President Obama’s remarks at the Dallas Police Memorial yesterday? If not, you should.

Also check out former President Bush’s remarks.

Both men have done on good job, on many occasions, trying to appeal to the best in us, and trying to be hopeful about America; because there is plenty to be hopeful about! And both have been maligned beyond any reasonable measure. Almost instantly President Bush was attacked for, “dancing during the memorial service,” with keyboard pundits questioning his intelligence and drug use. How dare he be moved by the music – the Battle Hymn of the Republic – as people often are, particularly in southern church traditions. And check out this small sampling of YouTube comments below President Obama’s speech:

comments on Pres Obama's speach 7-12-2016

Fear, hatred, attack, attack! Nonsense, unfounded accusations, fight, fight, fight! The mindset of some people is just pathetic. But I’m not going to let the terminal fools among us get me down. Anymore than I will let a hateful mass murder get me down. It is obvious that we, as a whole, are much better than this. I see it everyday in the people I interact with; those I love and those I hardly even know. There are hundreds of millions of people in this country doing for more good than harm every single day. Hundreds of millions of people living lives that don’t make, “the news.” I believe, as Anne Frank once put it, during far more desperate times than ours: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

How about this for a thought: Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have. Stop passing judgement on others and start listening to them. Don’t give into your worst self, even on social media, and do onto others as you would have them do onto you. If we try to do that, even a little, America’s best days will continue to be head of us.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to work.