Tuesday, January 20, 2009, was a monumental day in the history of our nation. We, the people, said farewell to a man who led our nation through some of the most perilous times in our history, and said hello to a new leader with a tall task in front of him as he faces the war on terror, a mounting recession, and unrest at home and abroad.
History will be much kinder to former President George W. Bush than public sentiment has been for the last four years. Generally, it often is for a president.
Most people didn’t think too highly of Gerald Ford, the only man to become president without being elected, while he was in office. Yet years later, he was extolled as a peacemaker who helped put Washington back together after the Watergate scandal.
Jimmy Carter was ridiculed as being an ineffective peanut farmer from the South, yet in the decades since his presidency he has become one of the most active former presidents of all-time. Never missing from an official or unofficial gathering at home or overseas, Carter’s legacy is far different from the sigh of relief originally echoed by Democrats and Republicans alike when he left office.
So it will be for the 43rd President of the United States, George Walker Bush. As a Texan, I already had much respect for then-Governor Bush. That only grew with the passing of eight years. True, I didn’t agree with everything he said, all the legislation he did or did not veto, or each cause he chose to support or ignore. But when it was all said and done, I still thanked God for my President.
A cowboy at heart, former President Bush is back at his beloved ranch in Crawford. He can chop wood as long as he likes. He can travel to Houston to attend ball games with his father. He can spend time with his family without the burdens of the office we call the Presidency.
In a two-term presidency, there are certain to be many moments which stand out as definitive. But for me, the defining moment of Bush’s time in office was one day, September 11, 2001.
It is hard to believe that nearly eight years have passed since that horrible Tuesday morning. I’ll never forget exactly what I was doing when the phone rang saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. As I huddled around the television for much of the day, my heart and prayers went out those who lost loved ones in the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and Flight 93.
The days that followed were eery. Living in the runway pattern of one of the busiest airports in the nation, I was accustomed to hearing jets go overhead several times an hour. For days the skies were clear and the air was unnaturally still as our nation waited with bated breath for news of another attack, fearing another tragedy in the making. Through it all, one figure stood out, that of our President, aggressively taking the fight where it belonged—the terrorist’s backyard. The cowboy was in the saddle.
But despite the aggression, the “compassionate conservatism” he spoke about in his campaign kept surfacing. I saw President Bush walk the halls of Walter Reed hospital, comforting the wounded, grieving with loved ones at memorial ceremonies. The Commander-in-Chief became the Comforter-in-Chief.
Glenn Beck summed up my feelings on Bush perfectly today in a beautiful tribute to his leadership on 9-11, a moment that forever shaped Bush’s legacy and the future of our nation.
“Mr. President, on the darkest day, you gave us hope when we were hopeless. You were unafraid when we were terrified. You led when nobody else wanted to. Mr. President, you don’t have any idea what you meant to me personally and my family right after 9-11. Job well done, good and faithful servant. Thanks.”
President Bush, thank you for your service and labors of love since 2000. The cowboy has truly earned his rest.