On Feb. 19, to celebrate George Washington's birthday, President Bush gave a speech at Mount Vernon comparing himself to the father of our country and the Iraqi war to the Revolutionary War.
In the past, George W. Bush has likened himself to Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy...
..."On the field of battle," Bush said at Mount Vernon, "Washington's forces were facing a mighty empire, and the odds against them were overwhelming. The ragged Continental Army lost more battles than it won" and "stood on the brink of disaster many times. Yet George Washington's calm hand and determination kept the cause of independence and the principles of our Declaration alive. … In the end, General Washington understood that the Revolutionary War was a test of wills, and his will was unbreakable."
Sound familiar? It's obviously meant to, but it shouldn't. Here's an awkward question: By Bush's own description, which side in the Iraq war most resembles the "ragged Continental Army" and which side the "mighty empire"? I don't mean to draw moral (or any other sort of) equivalences, because there is nothing at all equivalent about those two wars, or these two presidents, and it degrades the serious study of history to pretend there is.
But dragging Washington into Iraq is especially perverse because it's hard to imagine a war that he would have found more dreadful. Bush quotes him as having once said, "My best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom."
Yet Bush leaves out the context in which Washington made this remark. It was when the French foreign minister presented him with France's new tricolor flag. That is, it was in celebration of the French Revolution.
It was not, in any way, an endorsement of going to war to "spread freedom" around the world. To the contrary, in 1793, during France's subsequent war with much of Europe, Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality, forbidding American citizens from taking any action that would help one side or another.
Nor did Bush say anything about Washington's Farewell Address of 1796, in which the first president, stepping down from two terms, elaborated his views still further. Washington urged his fellow citizens to avoid "overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty." He cautioned against "excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another." And he advised, "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible."
Washington "first in war, first in peace, first to have his legacy tortured and abused by an idiot".
Bush likes to throw out the particularly inappropriate statement when discussing his legacy that "historians are still evaluating George Washington".
You know, Georgie, first, that's what historians do. The reason historians study Washington as opposed to say, James Monroe, in abundance is because like Caesar, Napolean, et al, there is something to study, a gigantic and generally auspicious legacy.
Second, unlike say, um, you, few people in their own time are ever as admired as George Washington. There is a line from, I believe Gary Wills, that describes Washington's effect on his contemporaries. In a room that contained Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison when Washington was around there was no doubt who dominated the room by his very presence. Everyone understood at the time that George Washington was a great figure. They knew that then, they knew that now. People are not re-evaluating Washington's legacy they are merely refining it.
Indeed, Washington was so rich in greatness both at the time and later that historians actually work at trying to humanize him and emphasize his flaws because otherwise he is dull and the public takes him for granted. That's right, they work to point out his flaws. Even in regard to Washington's greatest flaw (slavery) he turns out to have been greater than his peer group. I mean, shit, it's just not fair. George Washington is so much better a human being, so much greater a leader than you, for you to even try to compare yourself to him, makes you seem even less of a person than you were previously, no mean feat.
Let's get down to basics. You can be compared to some former Presidents, and indeed in many ways you have exceeded them.
Their names are Buchanan and Pierce. In fact, you are a guy who started an illegal war like Polk, and then ran it like you were Buchanan. This makes you, the worst President ever.