Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 7:58 pm | Fair 58º


Susan Estrich: Respect

If we don't show it for Bush as he leaves office, what basis will we have to demand it for Obama?

I don’t hate George Bush. I never have.

I voted against him twice. I disagree with him, sometimes passionately. I think the country is in worse shape now than it was eight years ago, and that history will not be kind to him. I think America’s standing in the world has dropped precipitately, and that it isn’t just the elites who think so.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
I think his administration’s failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina were not limited to the question of whether to land Air Force One in Baton Rouge, and that the slogan “mission accomplished” on the aircraft carrier was the least of it when it comes to the mishandling of Iraq. I am glad he is leaving office next week. I won’t miss him. But I don’t hate him.

I hate Hamas and its leaders, who would rather see their children die than let Israeli children live in peace. I hate al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for what they did on Sept. 11, 2001. I hate serial murderers and pedophiles and people who abuse their children.

Four years ago, when John Kerry was running, some Hollywood liberals who get respect because of what’s in their wallets, not their brains, made a lot of noise about having “We Hate Bush” events. It not only was tasteless, but stupid and self-defeating. Americans don’t hate the president, and you don’t win their votes by telling them that you do.

Shortly after Newt Gingrich swept into the speaker’s chair in 1994, he was invited to keynote an event at the Ronald Reagan Library, which is not far from where I live. A panel was scheduled after his speech, and the night before, the one woman on the panel had to cancel. The library’s director called me and asked if I would take her place, and I was happy to oblige.

The first question posed to me was something about President Reagan‘s strengths, comparing him to FDR, the sort of question that was an invitation to extol the former president, a softball if tossed to anyone on the panel but me. I answered respectfully. In fact, that was what my answer was about.

I talked about respecting President Reagan because of the office held, even though I didn’t agree with him, about having differences with the president on the issues, yet not questioning his motives or patriotism. I said I was there because I believed these were fundamentally American values, part and parcel of how we do our politics, and I hoped that the same respect would be accorded to the man who was then in the White House.

The audience booed. Loudly. Not the whole audience, mind you. Nancy Reagan was in the front row with various notable members of the library’s board, and they applauded, respectfully. The booing started in the second row. Nancy Reagan apologized to me afterward and sent flowers the next day.

The booers did themselves no good, no more than the Hollywood Bush-haters. The event was on C-SPAN. I got a lot of mail. People watching were appalled. Who were these people who would boo the idea of respecting the president? Two years later, President Clinton won re-election handily. Gingrich’s revolution petered out.

I cringe when I hear my liberal friends — not to mention some of the loudmouths who get paid for it — behaving the way the audience did that day. President Bush’s last days in office have produced too much invective for my taste. Yes, I am happy his term is over. No, I don’t agree with his assessment of his legacy. But if we can’t show some civility toward him, if we don’t respect the presidency, what will we say next week, when the loudmouths on the other side start their chant?

Barack Obama faces unprecedented challenges. If he doesn’t make some missteps, especially in the early days, he will be the first president ever to avoid them. He needs breathing room, space to find his way and respect while he does. If we aren’t willing to show it for President Bush as he leaves office, what basis will we have to demand it for President Obama when he takes over?

Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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