September 18, 2021 - 9:00 pm
Bush understands how immigrants help America — and how extremists hurt it
It’s time for fans and critics alike of George W. Bush to acknowledge an inescapable truth: On matters of diversity, inclusion and immigration, the 43rd president is a national treasure.
Bush proved that again recently with his brave and insightful remarks at a 9/11 memorial service for the heroes aboard United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The 43rd president was the “best man” to serve as president, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt recently told his listeners. Not the best president, to be sure. But, in recent memory, the best man to be president.
Hewitt noted Bush did not blame the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the intelligence failures that occurred under former President Bill Clinton.
Hewitt was correct on both counts. Even though he did a remarkable job of preventing another major attack, Bush was not the best president.
The Republican had many failures in his second term. There was the doomed nomination of the woefully unqualified Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the administration’s utterly inept response to Hurricane Katrina, and the strategic blunder of pushing what was ultimately an unsuccessful plan to privatize Social Security when the priority should have been comprehensive immigration reform, because there was much greater public support for that cause. And of course, there was also the distraction of the ill-conceived and costly war in Iraq which freed that country but divided our own.
But Bush was, in modern times, the best — and most honorable — man to occupy the Oval Office. He wasn’t petty, detached or self-centered. He took the job of protecting Americans very seriously, without taking himself too seriously.
When it came to immigration, it was Bush who — 20 years ago, just days before the Sept. 11 attacks — kicked off the latest chapter of the interminable conversation that Americans have had about newcomers since Benjamin Franklin badmouthed German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s. Bush, along with then-Mexican President Vicente Fox, advocated for legal status for the undocumented and pairing American employers with Mexican workers.
Bush did not achieve immigration reform. But he also didn’t militarize the U.S.-Mexico border and contribute to the deaths of scores of migrants as Clinton did with Operation Gatekeeper. Nor did Bush deport 3 million people and put refugee children in cages, like former President Barack Obama.
Today it seems, Bush is striving to be an even better man when it comes to welcoming the stranger and warning about political extremism.
In April, he penned an op-ed for The Washington Post in which he noted that immigration was a “defining asset” for the United States and called immigrants “a force for good.”
Last week in Shanksville, Bush beat that drum again. He compared the fanatics who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 with the pro-Donald Trump extremists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — some of whom were so wild-eyed that they threatened to kill police officers with their own guns.
Judging from the reaction on talk radio, Bush’s remarks stung many conservatives. This is probably because they are true. It’s also a fact that many of those who support Trump don’t like or appreciate immigrants, legal or illegal.
“We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within,” Bush said. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
Preach, Mr. President.
“A malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures,” Bush said. “So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.
Bring it home, Sir.
“I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I have seen,” Bush said. “At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know.”
That is also the nation I know, the one I love. And if Americans are brave enough to look at ourselves and resolve to be better people, we will know it again.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.