Born in the beginning of the Reagan era, I remember nothing about either the Great Communicator or any of his presidential predecessors. During the Bush-41 era, I was far more concerned with GI Joe toys and those amazing Desert Storm trading cards put out by Topps than with the Commander and Chief himself. During Clinton’s reign, I was influenced immensely as I watched his sex scandal unfold and suddenly realized how strangely mythical a President can become, even while in office. Come my entrance into adulthood, George W. Bush took over the Oval Office, and it’s certainly an easy thing for me to say that I have appreciated no President more than Bush-43 for his character and his leadership. President Obama has proven himself day after day to be not only the disappointment I expected him to be, but also a veritable enemy of the American people, so I have no patience for that man. But G.W. Bush—now there was a President of honor, conviction, and Christian morals. There was a man of character that I wouldn’t mind emulating and encouraging my children to emulate as well.
Decision Points is the President’s memoirs, though not a moment-by-moment recounting of his life or his political career, but rather a case-by-case reflection on a series of the most difficult decisions he had to make as a President (Kindle location 33). Some of these decisions resulted in President Bush’s proudest moments during his time in office, while others still seem to sting as he records them. For example, he writes of the stem cell debate: this “debate was an introduction to a phenomenon I witnessed throughout my presidency: highly personal criticism. Partisan opponents and commentators questioned my legitimacy, my intelligence, and my sincerity. They mocked my appearance, my accent, and my religious beliefs. I was labeled a Nazi, a war criminal, and Satan himself.” (Kl.2252-55) Yet despite these tough memories, he soldiers on, unwilling to sugarcoat the past simply because he has the platform to do so. He writes with clarity and honesty, and one can learn a great deal about the man who served us so well through some of the toughest years America has had to face in the past several generations.
Perhaps the greatest parts of the book for me were those that referenced Bush’s faith in Christ—a faith that has proven itself in the fruit of a life worth following. For example, enjoy these quotes directly from the book:
- “My Scripture readings had clarified the nature of temptation and the reality that the love of earthly pleasures could replace the love of God. My problem was not only drinking; it was selfishness.” (Kl. 73-74)
- “Billy [Graham] explained that we are all sinners, and that we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds. He made clear that the path to salvation is through the grace of God. And the way to find that grace is to embrace Christ as the risen Lord—the son of a God so powerful and loving that He gave His only son to conquer death and defeat sin.” (Kl. 623-626)
- “When God [called] Moses to action, Moses’ first response was disbelief: ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He had every excuse in the book. He hadn’t led a perfect life; he wasn’t sure if people would follow him; he couldn’t even speak that clearly. That sounded a little familiar.” (Kl. 1143-45)
- “I left the clinic inspired. The patients reaffirmed my conviction that every life has dignity and value, because every person bears the mark of Almighty God. I saw their suffering as a challenge to the words of the Gospel: ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’” (Kl. 6075-77)
- “I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew there would be tough days. Self-pity is a pathetic quality in a leader. It sends such demoralizing signals to the team and the country. As well, I was comforted by my conviction that the Good Lord wouldn’t give a believer a burden he couldn’t handle.” (Kl. 8377-79)
- “I began Tuesday, January 20, 2009 [his final day in office], the same way I had started every day for the past eight years: I read the Bible. One of the passages that final day was Psalm 18:2—’The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.’” Amen. (Kl. 8631-33)
I also greatly appreciated his take on the issues that have plagued the Chinese people for so long:
- “One area of disagreement with the Chinese leadership was human rights. My focus was on religious liberty, because I believe that allowing people to worship as they choose is a cornerstone of the freedom agenda. In one of our first meetings, I explained to President Jiang that faith was a vital part of my life and that I studied the Word every day. I told him I planned to raise freedom of worship in our conversations. ‘I read the Bible,’ he replied, ‘but I don’t trust what it says.’ I told both Jiang and Hu that religious believers would be peaceful and productive citizens, the kind of people who would make their country stronger. I told them that for China to reach its full potential, they needed to trust their people with greater freedom. I didn’t hector or lecture them; I let my actions send the message.” (Kl. 7808-14)
With such character and conviction as that in mind as I read, it was really quite difficult to digest any of his pages without contrasting President Bush’s policies to the policies of President Obama. Throughout every “decision” in Decision Points, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of twisted logic Obama would try to use in his memoirs in order to vindicate himself for emasculating America, betraying our allies while sleeping with our enemies, and lying day after day to the American public. I tried to ignore the blatant contrasts, but then I would hit passages like these and would simply want to scream:
- “By 2008, the initial estimate of $634 billion had dropped below $400 billion. The Medicare prescription drug benefit became one of the few government programs ever to come in well under budget. Market forces had worked. And we had moved America’s health care system in the right direction: away from government control and toward the choices and competition of a private market system, which is the best way to control costs in the long run.” (Kl. 5202-05)
- “I told the president-elect I looked forward to welcoming him to the White House. When I hung up the phone, I said a prayer that all would be well during my successor’s time. I thought about one of my favorite presidential quotes, from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail: ‘I pray Heaven to bestow the best blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.’ His words are carved into the mantel above the fireplace of the State Dining Room.” (Kl. 8526-30)
And likely those very same words have since been buffed out completely as soon as the Obamas took up residence, or at least covered over with a Cuban flag or a giant poster of the Food Pyramid.
Though I never intended this review to be so negative against our current President, this simply goes to show how deep the differences are between Bush and Obama. Too deep to ignore, and certainly too deep to reconcile. Yet both men have carried the greatest burden in the world for two full terms, so each must be admired for such courage. Bush’s own considerations about his role touch on areas such as these:
- “I read a lot of history, and I was struck by how many presidents had endured harsh criticism. The measure of their character, and often their success, was how they responded. Those who based decisions on principle, not some snapshot of public opinion, were often vindicated over time.” (Kl. 2264-66)
- “When I entered politics, I made a decision: I would confront problems, not pass them on to future generations.” (Kl. 4932-34)
As he looked back on his time in office through the course of this book, Bush dealt honestly not only with his readership but also with himself. Here he shares two superlative moments:
- “From the beginning, I knew the public reaction to my decisions would be colored by whether there was another attack. If none happened, whatever I did would probably look like an overreaction. If we were attacked again, people would demand to know why I hadn’t done more…After the nightmare of September 11, America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil. If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it.” (Kl. 3328-34)
- “I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn’t like hearing people claim I had lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was a racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low. I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today.” (Kl. 5936-38)
Then with classic dry humor, Bush later closes his book with this little anecdote, which makes him all the more endearing to my little heart: Once back in Midland Texas, his dog “Barney spotted our neighbor’s lawn, where he promptly took care of his business. There I was, the former president of the United States, with a plastic bag on my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for the past eight years.” (Kl. 8685-86)
I distinctly remember the day that President Reagan died and they carried his body slowly along the highways of California. People lined the streets in honor of the fallen hero, and as I sat in a hotel room on a business trip with my Dad, I saw that my dad cried. It was the end of an age, so it seemed, for where could America ever find a man as principled as Ronald Reagan? I’m pretty sure we found such a man in George W. Bush, and while I’m not sure if I’ll cry whenever “W” passes on, I’m confident that he’s left as strong an impression on me as Reagan did on my dad.