Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Decision Points: A Postmortem on the Bush Presidency

In the last week it has been difficult to turn on the television with out seeing former President Bush. With the recent release of his memoir Decision Points, a storm of media attention has been rehashing the Bush presidency and the decisions that he made. While watching the media coverage I could not help but to think about whether or not the release of this memoir will affect the public opinion of President Bush. Will the fact that Bush admits to mistakes help his reputation, or will it simply remind the public of the controversial leader he was?

In recent interviews with members of the media Bush has been forced to address many of the decisions that defined his presidency. He had to look back on the "Mission Accomplished" speech, his ineffectiveness during Hurricane Katrina, and his leading of our nation into a war with Iraq based on unfounded evidence. I found Bush to be remarkably candid about many of the mistakes he made. As he admitted that the aforementioned moments were times of regret and professional shortcomings. I think in many cases to hear a politician or former politician admit that he made a mistake is a breath of fresh air. Hindsight is always 20/20, and whether or not you agree or disagree with the decisions that Bush made during his presidency I think we can all agree that being the President is not easy. No matter if your a democrat or a republican as President be prepared to take criticism for every decision you make, because few decisions make everyone happy.

After addressing the book and the mistakes that Bush has now faced publicly; I'd like to now look at Bush as a leader. I do not think that Bush is going to ever be described by many as a charismatic or visionary leader. He never seemed to have the ability to eloquently activate the American people. Past and present leaders, such as MLK and President Obama, have displayed much more charismatic qualities. And while Bush most likely had a vision for the country I feel like he failed to, as Sashkin would say, "Tap in to the needs of the followers" (Sashkin). He certainly tapped into the hopes and needs of some, but never came close to addressing the needs of all. I also feel it is important for the President to be a servant leader to the people, and I am not sure that Bush fit this role either. His detachment during Hurricane Katrina, whether intentional or not, will forever be an example of his inability to connect with and serve all of his constituents. From this we can argue that what drove Bush was not the, "valuing and developing of people" (Greenleaf).

If classifying Bush as a leader is necessary I would have to lean towards him being a reactionary or opportunistic leader. If we look at the decisions that defined Bush as a president they were all in reaction to major challenges. Bush had the challenges of September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and Iraq to face throughout his presidency. And many years from now it will be his reactions to these challenges that will be his legacy. The decision to invade Iraq has to be one of the clearest examples of opportunistic leadership to date. Iraq had persistently been an issue and a concern of our government, and after September 11th the "War on Terrorism" opened a door to take care of Iraq. During this time Bush took advantage of the nations' response to terrorism and countries that posed a threat to national security. Here he fits Selznick's description of an opportunist as someone who, "pursues the immediate short run advantages in a way inadequately controlled by considerations of principle and ultimate consequence" (Selznick). We are still living with and attempting to control the consequences of that decision.

Being President is obviously a difficult job, and Bush has stated that, unfortunately as President you don't have the luxury of doing things over again. I wonder now:

In the aftermath of all the media coverage and confessions have your opinions of Bush as a president or a leader changed? What are your opinions?

Does facing these issues and addressing his mistakes grant him forgiveness or understanding?

And finally, should all leaders offer a postmortem on their time in power? Does it help or hurt their standing?

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