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

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.