I liked his sense of humour. Despite eight years of never-ending piss-takes, I don't think any comedian managed to attack him with as good a line as he himself used to describe a collection of his quotations:
It's like the thoughts of Chairman Mao, only with laughs, and not in Chinese.
And surely the single greatest embarassment for our own Prime Minister was when Bush demonstrated to the world that the dour git can't even improvise a simple handshake.
More importantly, there was The Bush Doctrine, a foreign-policy strategy that combines idealism, pragmatism, and humanity while utterly rejecting the cynicism and low expectations of realpolitik. Whenever you argue with a lefty about American foreign policy, it rarely takes them more than about a minute to bring up Pinochet. I always let them say their piece and then say that, yes, I agree, and so does Bush:
Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.
As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.
Or as Steyn paraphrased it:
To the old CIA line that he may be a sonofabitch but he’s our sonofabitch, the best response is that he may be our sonofabitch but in the end he’s a sonofabitch
And there was his honesty — far more of it than is usual in politicians of any stripe. People often told me that they didn't trust Bush. I would respond that, whenever he said he'd do something, he would then do it. What could be more trustworthy? Steyn again:
Conservatives can’t complain they were misled, although many do. Governor Bush campaigned in 2000 as the GOP’s first open, out-of-the-closet federalizer of the school system and as a big softie pushover for the ever swelling ranks of the Undocumented-American community. ... Most of us were suspicious ... But we were demoralized by the impeachment flop, and watching a touchy-feely sob-sister campaigning in Spanish for increased education spending it seemed reasonable to conclude that the guy couldn’t possibly mean it. He was surely indulging in the GOP equivalent of those feints that doctrinaire Democrats feel obliged to do every other November when they suddenly discover they’re “personally” opposed to abortion or start scheduling improbable hunting expeditions.
But it turned out the compassionate conservative did mean it — on immigration, education and much else. And, whatever one feels about those policies, we cannot say that we were betrayed — for few candidates have ever been so admirably upfront. Indeed, it is a peculiar injustice that the 43rd presidency’s most obvious contender for a Bartlett’s entry should be “Bush lied, people died”. The activists who most assiduously promoted the line are now having to adjust to the news that their own beloved “anti-war” candidate’s commitment to bring home every last soldier within 16 months has now been “revised” into a plan for some 30,000-70,000 troops to remain in Iraq after 2011. On Fox News the other night, I found myself talking to a nice lady from Code Pink trying to grapple with the fact that Henry Kissinger and Karl Rove are more enthusiastic about Obama’s national security team than she is. Many other Obama policies now turn out to be inoperative, and we haven’t even had the coronation. I don’t know about my Code Pink friend, but I already miss Bush’s straightforwardness. He spoke a language all but extinct in the upper echelons of electoral politics.
It's important to realise that Steyn isn't trying to get at Obama here: he's not saying that Obama is particularly dishonest, but that this sort of opportunistic lying is normal behaviour for politicians of any party — so normal that Bush probably wouldn't even have got the Republican nomination in the first place if it hadn't been for the fact that pretty much the entire Republican Party assumed that he was lying through his teeth and so voted for him on the basis of his support for policies he never claimed to support and his opposition to policies he enthusiastically espoused.
I remember the 2000 election. At the time, the two candidates seemed equally bad. In retrospect, thank God the right man won. Bush was, contrary to his opponents' crazed fantasies, yet another government-expanding socialist, not only the most left-wing Republican president ever but also more left-wing than most of the Democratic ones, but, really, who cares? I'm with Christopher Hitchens on this: defend civilisation first, then argue about fiscal policy and state education and prescription drug entitlements and all the other crap. If you've got a candidate who won't defend civilisation, none of his other policies really matter. And if you've got a candidate who will defend civilisation, none of his other policies really matter.
To finish, here's a perfect example of what was right with Dubya and wrong with his opponents:
Here's Slate's latest Bushism of the Day:I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.
Here's the full context — note that Slate persists in refusing to even link to the full statements:I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein. I'm with six other Iraqi citizens, as well, who suffered the same fate. They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant.
I am also here with Marvin Zindler, of Houston, Texas. I appreciate Joe Agris, the doctor who helped put these hands on these men; Don North, the documentary producer who made a film of this brutality, which brought the plight of these gentlemen to the attention of Marvin and his foundation. These men had hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen. And I am so proud to welcome them to the Oval Office. ...
It's going to take a while, but history's going to be kind to Dubya. The man has honour — and the stuff's so rare most of the world couldn't recognise it. I'm going to miss it.