The ‘Foul Spirit’ of George W. Bush and America’s Ruling Class

As with so many other aspects of our time, we seem destined to suffer the most trite and underwhelming imitations of things that once were great or at least impressive. Exhibit A would be the great war advocate, George W. Bush. Can there be a more perfect synthesis of the last 20 years of disappointing American politics than this man? He exemplifies everything—unaware, unashamed, unapologetic—that the American ruling class has become. NeverTrumpers and neocons yearn for a return to the days of measured, steady Bush leadership. We are told constantly now that he is kind, polite, well-bred: a politician from a more dignified tradition of public servants than those of late. But of course, in reality he is none of these things.

The everlasting incompetence and mesmerizing self-delusion on display at his recent 9/11 remarks make that clear.

What kind of a person stands on the very spot where heroic, valiant Americans perished in a tragic last-ditch effort to save a symbol of their ruling class—either the Capitol or the White House, no one knows for certain—and dares to offer criticism of the American people? What kind of cretin could possibly stir himself to lecture the public while standing on the very spot where common, average, everyday people sacrificed themselves to save members of the elite? 

Does any thinking person for a moment believe, were the shoe on the other foot, that a plane load of Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas, highjacked and heading straight for Dollywood with the intention of killing as many ordinary Americans as possible, would rise up and sacrifice themselves to save us?

This historic blunder would be enough for an average underperforming president, but George W. Bush is no average underperformer. These words were delivered not only on the occasion of the common man’s selfless sacrifice par excellence, but also hot on the heels of our ruling class’ greatest military blunder and most embarrassing episode in perhaps our entire national history. The idea that George W. Bush would have the audacity to do anything other than demur the opportunity to speak on 9/11, just weeks after the total failure of our entire engagement in the Middle East, is astonishing.

Instead of heaping praise on this small group of valiant Flight 93 Americans, and humbly asking their forgiveness for his errant and misguided attempts to avenge them, including the embarrassing foreign adventurism undertaken in their name, Bush instead searched the American landscape for a recent, festering wound to scratch . . . and broke it wide open. Why? Why did he feel the need to do this? 

Alluding to the events on January 6, 2021, Bush lectured ordinary Americans—some of them the very people who felt compelled to answer his call to defend America 20 years ago at Ground Zero—on what he considers to be their latent propensity to act like the terrorists he and his fellow negligent elites allowed to murder nearly 3,000 of us. One can believe that the misguided and foolish rioting of January 6 was profoundly wrong, and still feel in one’s bones how inappropriate and small Bush was to profane the remembrance of our heroes with his tedious little lecture.

That extra step to insult is truly breathtaking. This great failure of a wartime president alluded to the chaotic milling about and general parading through the Capitol by a bunch of nincompoops (who neither brought weapons nor used them) and compared it to heinous crimes of murderous zealots. He likened people who essentially walked into the Capitol building and then back out again while harboring incorrect political sentiments to those who slaughtered as many innocents as they possibly could using hijacked commercial jets which they transformed into great flying bombs of incinerating fuel. American citizens behaving badly should not be compared, under any circumstances, to the people who pulverized, at terrific speed, airplanes full of innocents into some of our most iconic and important buildings, instantly killing themselves and everyone onboard in a final nihilistic act of rage and impotent fury. 

The sheer violence to common decency, statesmanship, and self-awareness that George W. Bush, a man I voted for twice, achieved with his 9/11 speech is, I confess, difficult to comprehend.

The most heartbreakingly beautiful thing about Flight 93 is that it stands as the sole American response and victory on that terrible day—a day when the entirety of our ruling class failed to defend us. It was the lone effort to anticipate, and intercept, what was coming right at us. It was the one effective measure taken to protect us, despite the billions of dollars and countless man hours we, the American taxpayers, had generously provided our military and intelligence community. 

When each and every one of our elite institutions failed us, necessitating hundreds of valiant first responders to go to their deaths in an attempt to abate the crisis, one plane load of 40 average Americans rose up and stopped the terrorists. One group of ordinary Americans, with no warning or special training, managed to hold the devil at bay. Once they found out where that plane was headed and what the terrorists had in mind, they were resolved to stop them. And they did. Their courageous stand allowed us some dignity and pride in ourselves amidst the crushing pain, shock, disbelief, and failure.

President Bush’s complete misunderstanding of that day, together with his apparent desire to rub our noses into his own failures and those of his class, blaming us for the difficult political situation in which we now find ourselves, is profoundly offensive.

About Lane Scott

Lane Scott is an assistant editor of American Greatness. She was a John M. Olin Foundation Fellow at the School of Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate University. She received her undergraduate degree from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Lane and her husband own a small farm in the California Gold Country where they live with their five young children.

Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

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