First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
A Stand-up President
I keep hearing how Ronald Reagan was such a great president because he always stood up for what he believed and did the right thing no matter what.
Funny -- that's not the Ronald Reagan I saw. I watched Ronald Reagan start us down the long ugly road of capitulating to Muslim terrorists.
Maybe there was no choice but to withdraw the Marines after the barracks was bombed in Lebanon in 1983. Certainly we could not invade Lebanon. But the withdrawal was exactly what the terrorists wanted. And Osama had one of his best examples of how America can be given a tiny defeat and they'll give up and go home. Even with tough-guy Reagan as president!
The place where Reagan's foreign policy earned my disgust was when he traded arms to Iran in exchange for hostages. This is the opposite of what a tough, strong-minded leader does. The President of the United States has the responsibility to refuse to allow hostage-taking to pay. He rewarded it.
I was also disgusted with the fact that he signed a law cutting off funding for the Contras in Nicaragua -- and then funded them behind Congress's back using off-the-books money from his arms-for-hostages deal. I don't think it was impeachable, but I do believe it was dishonorable. If he believed the Contras should be funded, he should have vetoed the bill. He should have stood for something, instead of sneaking for it.
Which is not to deny the things that Reagan did right. I just want it on record that I'm not a Reaganite, never was one, never will be. And I'm a bit weary of hearing Republicans speak of Reagan worshipfully -- kind of the way Democrats speak of "the Clinton years." Give me a break.
Not that George H.W. was much tougher. Yes, after a little equivocating, he took a firm stand on Saddam's invasion of Kuwait; but I remember how quickly he moved to accommodate the guys who staged the coup in Russia -- until Yeltsin and a crowd of supporters stood up against the tanks in Red Square.
I know that compromise is the essence of getting things done politically -- but there are times when a president has to draw a line in the sand. Times when he has to make a decision about what's right and then stick with it.
George W. Bush has made plenty of mistakes. Probably the biggest one was thinking that just because he could get along with Democrats in Texas, he could get along with Democrats in Congress. Silly man! Democrats in Texas care about governing Texas. Democrats in Congress care only about gaining political advantage. Slow learner, there, Mr. President!
But part of Bush's legacy will be this: He learns from his mistakes, but he doesn't back down when he believes he's right.
The obvious example is Iraq, and now, when the Democrats are panicking for fear we might be victorious in that campaign, it's easy to forget how much guts it took for the President not to accede to the Democrats' demands to withdraw from Iraq, the way his father bowed to their demand that he break his promise and raise taxes.
But we've had another example recently: the breakthrough in stem cell technology that allows us to have all the stem cells we need, taken from people's own bodies so there'll be no rejection problem -- without having to use any dead embryos.
How many years now has Bush been beaten up by so-called "scientists" because he is so heartless and unfeeling and religious that he forces the rest of us to do without vital research just because Christians get all sentimental about embryos.
The truth was never what they claimed. Bush never banned stem cell research. In fact, he was the first president to allow federal funding of stem cell research. Clinton didn't do it. Nobody had done it. Bush did it.
But there was a serious risk of embryos being created solely for the purpose of destroying them in order to get stem cells from them. It's bad enough that we slaughter millions of embryos for the convenience of people who can't be bothered with contraception or abstention or pregnancy -- that's a moral nightmare already -- but to make it so that serious scientific research depends on our harvest of dead embryos would be putting the federal stamp of approval on wholesale abortion.
So Bush struck what seemed a reasonable balance: He would allow federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells for the first time ever, but only on tissue lines that were already developed and being studied; no federal dollars could be used on new lines that depended on new dead embryos.
Meanwhile, foundations and other governments were free to fund anything they wanted. There was no ban. Never. Those who called it a ban were liars, and don't you forget that.
But we saw, month after month and year after year, in science magazines and in the press and on TV, people sniping at Bush for his "ban" on vital research. (Never mind that it was never shown that embryonic stem cells actually did anything useful -- it is still just a hope.)
Bush never backed down. He had compromised as far as he could, without bending his understanding of the principle of the sanctity of human life that civilization depends on.
And now it turns out that stem cell research can be done -- and done far better -- without touching a single embryo.
Do you really believe that without President Bush's non-banning "ban" there would have been any urgent incentive to find an alternative source of stem cells?
Maybe -- the need for stem cells that won't be rejected because they come from the patient's own body might have been enough of a prod. Eventually.
Now, the President had no way of knowing that scientists would find a better alternative. He didn't take his stand because of that. Instead, he weighed the hope of good results from research against the certainty of the killing of embryos and found a compromise he could live with.
There were plenty of people more conservative than Bush who thought he was stepping onto a "slippery slope" by allowing federal funding of stem cell research at all.
But Bush found a moral balance, drew the line, and stuck with it. No sneaking. No backsliding.
The insane Left loves to call Bush a liar, though they have no evidence of any lies -- they have to redefine "lie" in order to make any kind of case. The insane Left also likes to claim that Bush stole the election, even though any rational observer knows that the selective recount in Florida by the Democrats was the only attempt to steal the election, and the Supreme Court merely stopped it and made everybody obey the law, which meant Bush was elected.
But Bush is not a liar. And Bush is not a thief. You may disagree with him. You may think he has made terrible mistakes. But he is an honest and honorable man who has, to the best of his knowledge and ability, done what was right for America and for the world.
We keep being warned about the hideous consequences of electing Bush or of enacting the laws he proposes. But I remember all those threats and warnings.
Bush was going to bring back Jim Crow. Well, seven years into his presidency, he still hasn't done it.
The Patriot Act was going to turn America into a fascist nation. Well, it hasn't happened -- despite the weird fantasies of the insane Left who talk as if it had.
We've had, for seven years, a President who has thought carefully and sought a balance between compelling opposites. We had to find a way to effectively find terrorists before they acted, without wrecking the Constitution. So President Bush asked for the tools he needed in the Patriot Act, and used other tools that other Presidents had used, including Democrats, and it worked. So far, anyway.
Yet he has been savaged by the insane Left, who ignore the fact that the President has sought a fair balance every step of the way.
The insane Right is just as bad. You'd think the President had burned the flag when he proposed a kind of amnesty for illegal aliens whose only crime was working hard for ridiculously low wages in order to feed their families, and whose primary effect on America was to keep prices low for all of us -- which, by the way, is the very heavy tax that the illegals have paid the whole time they've been in this country.
It was a compromise. They would have to take serious steps to acquire legal status, but they would not be punished more than their "crime" warranted -- they'd have to go back to their home country and tag up before they could return.
But the vindictive forces of racism and nativism, just like their lunatic kin of the Left, did not accept a rational compromise that would preserve the economic contribution of these immigrants, and allow them to take their place in the long line of immigrants who made this country great despite the fears of two hundred years of Know-nothings.
When you see how President Bush has had to deal with intransigent stupidity and insane vindictiveness from both extremes, the miracle is that he still stands firm, quietly (and, yes, inarticulately) doing the job he was elected to do: Preserve this country from its enemies and guard the Constitution from those who would replace it with their own vision of "purity" that tramples on the rights and interests of anyone who bothers them.
That is the legacy of President Bush: The sense to find principled compromise and the courage and strength to stand for those principles.
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