There has lately been a growing trend on the American Right to throw former President George W. Bush under the bus. Since the ascendency of Donald Trump, it has become increasingly popular for conservatives to impugn Bush’s character and condemn his decisions. It is quite an astonishing phenomenon especially because a lot of the same people who are loudly chastising Bush’s leadership were only 20 years ago among the most vociferous champions of his presidency.
Over a basically decent man who rose to the difficult task of making America and the free world safer from terrorism after 9/11, conservatives are lining up one after another to break Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
What is also surprising is how contemptuous a great many people on the Right have become of neoconservatives. Indeed, prominent NeverTrumpers such as Bill Kristol and Max Boot—people who thought that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden were better choices than Trump—certainly deserve to be treated as traitors to conservatism. But their disloyalty to the important causes does not alter the validity of neoconservatism itself, nor does it disparage the positive contributions neoconservatives have in the past made to American foreign policy and national security. Many neoconservatives, myself included, also supported Trump and voted for him twice.
Bush was indeed greatly misguided in using that moment of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to compare the January 6 protesters to the 9/11 terrorists. But he is still right to label those protesters as extremists who stooped to the level of an angry mob. Besides the deaths and injuries on that day, the great tragedy of January 6 was that the American Right lost its innocence. The Right is supposed to respect law and order and only protest peacefully, as Trump indeed called upon them to do. But for the first time, people on the Right reduced themselves to the behavior of their enemies in Antifa. If conservatives have little problem comparing Antifa to terrorists, clearly the same can be said of any right-wing activists who use Antifa’s model.
Most important, however, is that we not lose sight of the fact that Bush was once a leader who fought hard for many conservative principles. In many ways, he also did this better than Trump. Bush saw freedom as a distinctly human value, not a distinctly American one. While there is indeed something good in Trump’s “America First” approach, it still fails to acknowledge the common threats to liberty and freedom faced by all western civilization.
Bush wanted the free world to band together and destroy the evil forces that seek to kill and enslave us and our allies. He stood up courageously before the world and said, “Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.” He knew that the fight would be a long-lasting challenge but urged us to be resilient and conduct the fight for as long as it takes. That day, conservatives across America applauded our president. Today, far too many of them are maligning him as a warmonger and a card-carrying member of the ruling elite.
Instead of demonizing our former Republican leader, we need to recognize the real demons.