I was disappointed in Bush’s farewell address last night. Most of it was small ball, just a list of accomplishments that amounted to legacy polishing. It didn’t leave us with anything to ponder, as Eisenhower did when he warned of the Military-Industrial Complex. When he spoke of protecting vulnerable life and his appointment of justices Roberts and Alito, he reminded us of what a polarizing president he had been, to the end.
There was one big ball moment. It came in the middle of his speech:
As we address these challenges, and others we cannot foresee tonight, America must maintain our moral clarity.
I have often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world and between the two, there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.
Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.
President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” As I leave the house he occupied two centuries ago, I share that optimism.
This is the essence of George W. Bush: the belief in moral clarity, that it is easy to distinguish right from wrong and act accordingly. Thus Terry Schiavo, thus no stem cell research, thus waterboarding. From the first day of his presidency—of his governorship, for that matter—he allowed himself few doubts. Moral clarity can reveal, but it can also conceal. In the tragic events of September 11, there was moral clarity. The terrorists were evil and America was innocent. But that juxtaposition does not carry over to and validate every subsequent decision. Moral dilemmas lurk everywhere.