Donald Miller on President George W. Bush

From Storylines, by Donald Miller, thanks Donald:

I’ve always had mixed feelings about George W. I voted for him once (his second term) and coming from Texas, had something of an emotional tie to the former President. Not only that, but I like him. I naively believe, of all the former Presidents, he and I would get along the best. I’d rather sit in a duck blind with a dog and George W. than with anybody else. I think we’d get along. If only he drank beer.

That said, I wonder at times if his Presidency didn’t get swayed too strongly by Dick Cheney and the whole Neo-Con control machine (without which he would not have gotten elected). It’s a shame, really. W. may have done more for the continent of Africa than any other President, at least from a foreign policy/financial perspective. Despite popular belief, he was a strong advocate for the poor and marginalized. And I like the fact he wanted to lower taxes, but I hate the fact he increased the national debt….

What is interesting to me about the fact the President is painting now is that it means he’s exploring, creating, feeling something, being vulnerable, if you will. You have to be vulnerable to create art. Art is difficult if you’re defensive.

There is no question this man has spent hours wondering about his decisions, and there’s no question he’s wept over the lives lost.

Dick Cheney seems like a man who justifies his decisions no matter what evidence you stack against him. George W. Bush doesn’t. I think the man is honestly objective.

And here’s the reality, and perhaps the point of this post: We tend to demonize people, don’t we? We tend to think other people are either angels or demons. But they aren’t. There is a messiah and a devil and then the human race caught in-between.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    I understand how someone could have voted for Bush the first time. All that campaign hype and all. But to have not voted for him the first time but to have voted for him the second time? Shaking my head. You want vulnerability? Put the dadgum paints away and strap on the ammo gear. March your butt out into some desolate valley of Afghanistan where you are are sitting ducks waiting to be plucked. Come home with half the sense you went to war with and try, just try to get medical care through the VA. That’s vulnerability. Somebody who picks up a paintbrush in the safety and security of a gated-community? Please spare me. What a ridiculous bunch of drivel. Seems the only success Don Miller has in romance is in the sentimentality of his writing.

  • Jeremy

    Well, the daggers are already out, I see. That was pretty vicious, Karen. The ad hominem there at the end was completely uncalled for as well. It also kinda misses the point.

    I’ve got skin in this game. As a former soldier with friends in the ground because of Bush’s wars and as a bit of a lefty, I appreciate what Don’s saying here. It’s EASY to react like Karen.

    This actually hit home for me, because I hold an extreme dislike for W. He’s human, he made mistakes and he has to live with the consequences. Whatever I may think of his decisions as a leader, that does NOT make him evil. Also, there’s plenty of evidence that he’s fully aware of the gravity of those decisions and not justifying it off like some of his compatriots.

    Don’s bigger point, hidden in all that, seems to be that we very easily demonize people we don’t agree with. His point could be spun around to apply to Obama for Conservatives and many other leaders that we disagree with vehemently. The thrust of it happens here:

    “There is a temptation to paint a man evil for the ramifications of his decisions. And I think while his motives were not pure (self-deluded at best), I don’t believe they were evil. I think he made dramatic miscalculations.” When we approach our political opponents like this, we might actually get somewhere.

    Or as a book I own on the topic is titled “You’re not as crazy as I thought you were (but you’re still wrong)”

  • gloria

    I like Donald’s essay and his loving attitude comes through, unlike Karen whose comment seems like a knee jerk reaction. We all hate war and its effects on soldiers and their families. But it doesn’t help to demonize W. He is a human being in need of grace just like the rest of us.

  • Tony Springer

    GWB is neither demon nor saint.
    The governor of Texas never made it to the White House.
    As President, he accepted a different agenda and in the heat of the presidency, made some major mistakes.
    He was in charge, not Cheney, Rove, et.al. He is the one that gets the fame and blame.
    In my judgment, he was weak.

  • MatthewS

    Hurt people hurt people…

    It’s very true that we want to demonize people. George W., Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Obama (notice my little inclusio?) – they all get their share of being demonized. It’s tempting to call it un-Jesus-like when it’s the other side but “tough love” when it’s our side that does the demonizing.

  • Susan

    You make a good point about demonizing people. Good to reflect on. Still and all, I had no idea I disagreed with you so thoroughly.

  • scotmcknight

    Susan, who is the “you”?

  • Andy Halpin

    Mistakes? Dramatic miscalculations? Let’s at least be honest about this. I remember Colin Powell (on Bush’s instructions, presumably) briefing the United Nations on Iraqi WMD – a cynical exercise in deception and disinformation. I remember the public campaign of deception waged by Bush and his cronies to justify an entirely unjustifiable attack on Iraq. I remember how allies, such as the French, who tried to give sound advice were not only ignored but vilified. These were not mistakes or miscalculations. The destruction of Iraq and the deaths of hundred of thousands of innocent Iraqis were not due to miscalculations – they were the result of coldly and chillingly deliberate calculations. If Mr Bush is really experiencing qualms of conscience about this (and he should) then let him go before the International Criminal Court and answer charges of war crimes. Otherwise his remorse is pretty meaningless – if there is actually any remorse.

  • Timothy

    This coincides with the death of Margaret Thatcher, a political figure possibly even more divisive than George W Bush.
    Part of the tainted memory of Thatcher is because of a complete misunderstanding of what she stood for. She famously said, “There is no such thing as society.” And this is often taken as a summary of selfish individualism. In fact, her thinking was almost the complete opposite of this, seeking that people take responsibility within the complex network of the community or society, a society that consists of people and has no existence except as people.
    Two other reasons people have found her repulsive is that she stood against the establishment, both of the Conservatives and Labour kinds, and that she was a woman. “Ditch the bitch” was a common anti Thatcher slogan that has resurfaced upon her death.
    However, it must be admitted that three developments during her ‘reign’ were toxic. She pushed the car over public transport, she pushed home ownership too hard and pushed financial services over manufacturing. Obviously there is nothing wrong with cars, home ownership or financial services per se, but they have led to an unbalanced nation.

  • Jag

    We do tend to demonize war criminals. Jesus forgave Judas and we should forgive Bush, but that does little for the families of the tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people who are dead. The only reason he has escaped justice is that we’re the most powerful nation on earth. I do harbor hard feelings toward those who voted for him twice — especially those who did it on ‘moral’ grounds.

  • Percival

    People from the left and right tend to demonize opponents. A sense of one’s own moral clarity can be most invigorating and affirming. In recent years (the Obama years), I have felt American right wingers were the most myopic and the least aware of the moral complexities of geopolitics and history. After reading some of the comments on this post, I have begun to feel that maybe I’ve been wrong.

    There seems to be no awareness of the fog of military intelligence and war or the fact is that Saddam murdered more Iraqis each year than the American military did. Gray, dark gray, and light gray. There were no easy answers and without doubt GWB made a lot of bad decisions, but history never shows us the results of decisions not made.

    Karen #1, I am especially disappointed in your reaction (having been a reader of your blog) and I hope you will issue an apology to Don Miller.

  • BradK

    @Karen Spears Zacharias #1,

    What a truly awful comment. It exemplifies exactly what Miller is talking about in his blog post. How sad. Btw, I did not vote for Bush in 2004 either.

  • Chris Jones
  • Phil

    It’s perplexing and not a little sad that a post by Miller about the constructiveness of reflecting on the nuanced gifts and weaknesses of all people, and of the eminently Christian value of extending grace to others, especially our perceived enemies, was so quickly taken as an invitation to vent vitriol not only upon Bush, but upon Miller as well. It’s a good reminded to me how reflexive we are in our prejudices and hatreds.

    In a similar vein, I noted with sadness the joyous hatred on shameful display yesterday at the death of Margaret Thatcher. Those celebrating her death on both sides of the pond were liberals/progressives. Those taking umbrage at Miller’s gracious post (both here and at his own blog) seem to be largely of that political persuasion as well. I’m trying to remember when hatred of the other, when intolerance, derision, and incivility became acceptable among liberals/progressives.

    Miller’s post reminded me to look in the mirror myself. Are there people around me, are there leaders or colleagues that I have demonized so thoroughly in my inner heart that the very mention of their names, or hearing even the slightest compliment of them, would spur me to a knee-jerk hateful reaction? I don’t want that to be true of me. Jesus deserves better from me.

  • scotmcknight

    What Phil said.

  • Loren Haas

    So Karen Spears Zacharias represents the collateral damage from another ill-conceived war, from another generation. Her father was killed in Vietnam, leaving behind a widow and fatherless children. Life for her family was a grief-filled struggle to survive.
    Victims of abuse are frequently pressured by well meaning Christian counselors to forgive the perpetrators of the abuse without much doing much to stop the abuser. The allegations in the SGM lawsuit come to mind here.
    The consequences of Mr. Bush’s war are far from over. Maybe focus should be on the vulnerable victims and not on unrepentant, but “vulnerable” perpetrator?

  • Percival

    So Loren,
    Is Bush to blame for Vietnam too? You are casting him as the abuser of Karen.

  • http://azspot.net naum

    No “daggers” in KSZ comment — perhaps it could be more charitably expressed, but it is the truth — it is an insult to cast him as *vulnerable*. Yes, a lot of criticism of GWB was over the top and vindictive, but this certainly was not.

    Somebody who picks up a paintbrush in the safety and security of a gated-community?

    Indeed.

  • Chris Jones

    I think what we need to hear is a bit of a confession and some repentance from 43 before we try to analyze why he is painting.

  • Andy Halpin

    @ Phil (no. 14): I think you may be missing the point a bit, Phil. Of course Christians should extend grace to others – but not cheap grace, and certainly not partisan grace. I have no personal antipathy toward Mr Bush; I’ve never met him and, for all I know, he may very well be good company. But we are talking here about a man who – arguably – is guilty of the most serious violations of international law and of human rights, resulting directly or indirectly in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Can he still be forgiven and saved by God? Of course he can. Should people (even his victims) be willing to forgive him? Yes, they should.

    But is this all there is to it? It’s all very well to talk about grace and forgiveness (though I didn’t hear many people extending this to Saddam or bin Laden). But what about the other side – what about repentance? Under the circumstances I think it’s quite reasonable for us to wonder what repentance might look like in this context, what “fruit in keeping with repentance” we might hope to see. Whether Mr Bush has actually repented or not is none of my business, it’s entirely a matter between him and God. But given that the offences (sorry, alleged offences) were very public, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that repentance should also have some public, visible dimension.

    What concerned me about Mr Miller’s article, and some of the responses here, was the implication that this could be reduced to the level of a guy who made some “mistakes”, a few “miscalculations” – but hey, he’s reflective about this now, doing some art therapy and may even have shed a tear or two. So let’s just forgive and forget the whole thing. This is simplistic, almost to the point of being offensive, and this is what I was responding to – and I think Karen also (though I can’t speak for her). Attitudes like this make it far too easy for the same thing to happen all over again. That’s precisely why we have had war crime tribunals, which have dealt out harsh justice even to those who claimed to have been remorseful and repentant. In many cases (certainly some German officers at Nuremberg), this remorse was almost certainly genuine, but they didn’t avoid justice – because the issues were too serious.

  • Greg D

    I was a conservative Republican for all of my life. Now, I’m a moderate leaning left. What changed me? George W. Bush. About halfway through his presidency I became ashamed to be associated with the war-mongering, military regime of the Bush administration. I truly questioned Bush’ integrity. Here is a man who essentially lied to the American populace and capitalized on tragedy in order to garner support for an unjust war (is any war just) just so he could mop up what his Daddy didn’t finish in 1991. This, at the expense of thousands of innocent lives in collateral damage (women and children) and the expense of BILLIONS of American taxpayer dollars. Our country became known more for its war machine and torture than our movies and Coca-Cola. It was the bloody crusades all over again under Bush 43. And yes, while he did advocate for the poor, he did very little to show for it. Furthermore, he did very little for the pro-life cause, the very issue that I was hoping he would make progress on. In fact, he was more pro-death (war and death penalty) than pro-life. Sure, he might be a perfectly nice gentleman to kick back and smoke a stogie with. But, he is and always will be a politician driven by loyalties and special interests. Not only am I ashamed of what this President did to our country, but how he also tainted the name of the very Savior of peace he claims to serve.

  • Phil

    @Andy #20

    I don’t agree at all that I missed the point. Miller wrote an article about a bit of reflection and self-awareness. He wrote about the tendency to demonize those with whom we vehemently agree, and he was transparent in his felt need to humanize a man whom he had mentally cast as a demon in years past. I thought his post was poignant.

    Unfortunately, Miller was writing about Pres. Bush. Many who’ve commented on Miller’s piece seem to want to exclaim, “Hold on! Bush IS a demon!” One might as well post a “Bushitler” image on some of the posts (I note Godwin’s Law applies here since someone has already raised the specter of the Nazi regime and grouped Pres Bush with those tried at Nuremberg).

    As I understand the argument now being proffered, because Pres. Bush pressed for military action in Iraq, and because there was a resulting, staggering loss of life on both sides, he is now the equivalent indeed perhaps worse than Saddam. He should be tried for international war crimes. I would be interested to see how many espousing that view would go on record naming and calling for all the Democratic leaders who voted in support of military intervention in Iraq & Afghanistan to join Pres. Bush in The Hague.

    I digress.

    I didn’t miss the point. Miller decided that Pres. Bush had made catastrophic mistakes, but was a flawed human with whom Miller could still imagine fellowship rather than a two-dimensional figure personifying evil. Clearly many still think Pres. Bush is just that. I suspect Miller shared his story because he sensed many, including Christians, find it very easy to justify hatred of those with whom they strongly disagree. I think Christians should find that a troubling trait within themselves.

  • Loren Haas

    #17 Percival, No Bush is not responsible for Vietnam. I seem to remember he evaded that conflict, like most of the men of that era in his administration. The point is that Karen has a sensitivity to the plight of the ones who fought the battles and came home damaged or did not come home and the damage was passed to their survivors. Everyone has an obligation to listen to them. They do not get big contracts for ghost writers to pen official versions of the war in their names. Karen and her family are the legacy of the decisions of people in power who send men off to war. I want to hear what she has to say. She does not have to apologize if her words offend others. It is not a pretty story.

  • Alan K

    As Miller said: we tend to demonize people.

  • Chris Jones

    Miller’s point about demonizing is exactly right. We as Christians should avoid that. Love challenges us to fight to see the image of God in all people, like we desire them to see the image of God in us. I do think Karen is right to push back against the sentimentality of the piece however. I still believe that Bush needs to confess and repent for his own spiritual healing and for the healing of many people who have been impacted by this war and his decision. This war was not simply a ‘mistake’, it was the result of arrogance and pride.

  • Mark h

    Wow. The discussion here reminds me of an old Campolo/McLaren book, Adventures in Missing the Point. Pretending we “know it all” is the gravest of miscalculations. This makes me very sad.

  • Mitch

    I read Miller’s post when it came out and have continued to think about it. I did not like Bush’s policies, I think his “mistakes” were headlong rushes to action based on deception and the inflated perception of his/America’s ability to “rid the world of evil.” (His words, not mine). Then I saw Pres. Carter on The Daily Show tonight and learned of yet more humanitarian that he has done to help eradicate the guinea worm (news to me). So yes, W. is human, but my question is, what is he doing now for the common good with the immense power, privilege and platform he has? Am I too judgmental if I think that, if “to whom much is given, much is required,” W. might engage in more than self-portraiture? And I’ll confess, maybe he is involved in work that I’m unaware of, but as former presidents go, he seems to be fairly off the grid.

  • Percival

    Phil #22,
    nail.on.the.head.

    Loren #23,
    So her comment about Miller’s lack of success in romance was not out of bounds because she has experienced loss in her life due to of the callous acts of other politicians. I guess I just disagree. Wounded people don’t get a pass on civility.

  • Sher

    Both of the contrary reactions to Miller’s post make sense to me because I felt both of them when reading the post on storyline days before it was posted on jesuscreed. I suported the principle of viewing people as a whole and staying away from demonizing. it is a principle I seek and struggle to apply in my life. But there were parts in his post that seemed shallow and nonchalant. I anticipated strong reactions to come in particular from people who had war related wounds and trauma. I expected that before reading the responses on jesuscreed.

  • Sher

    …what I did not expect was the demonizing of Karen Z….

  • Phil

    @Sher #30

    Please explain the ethical calculus going on in your thinking. It’s ok for a person commenting on a blog to demonize another person. It’s not ok for anyone to respond to the demonizer negatively for his or her demonizing lest the demonizer feel demonized?

    This kind of thing is exactly what lies at the heart of why Miller wrote his post (I surmise), and why demonizing others is often an insidious cancer that metastasizes.

  • Sher

    31 phil
    i am getting your point Phil. Yes, shortsightedness on my part. thanks!

  • Phil

    @Sher 32

    You’re gracious, thank you. I’ve been thinking and praying about this dynamic playing out in the wake of Miller’s post. It’s a common failing of people. I’ve no doubt I do it too without being aware that I am. I want to take steps to ensure I do it a lot less in the future.

  • Rob Henderson

    Does anybody think that a Saddam Hussein still in power would have made for a more peaceful world? Does anybody think that not ousting the Taliban out of Afghanistan would have made for a more peaceful world?

    I voted for W. both times AND I voted with a prayerful conscience. And please, don’t castigate one man or group of leaders who made decisions during the W years. ALL of us who voted for him, especially the 2nd time, share in the decision making process.

    I live with that vote just like everyone who votes for anyone else.

  • Loren Haas

    #28 Percival- I cannot defend that remark, other than to say sometimes you have to overlook how an angry and injured person says something and focus on the point they are trying to get across.

  • Sher

    @ 33
    thanks Phil…and keep up the good works…


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