Back during the dog days of 2005, Pres. George W. Bush rather upended his administration when he had them assemble an action plan for a doomsday pandemic scenario. He did not think the nation would use it during his term, but he presciently foresaw its need in the not-so distant future. Fifteen years later, the current administration dusted off the Bush plan, because that is what they had. Without George W. Bush, things would be even worse during this CCP-virus crisis. Unfortunately, that is the sort of greatly needed perspective that is largely missing from American Experience’s two-part George W. Bush, which premieres this Monday and Tuesday on PBS.
If nothing else, American Experience pretty much definitively proves the left-wing bias of the media, because the vast majority of its talking heads are journalists, nearly all of whom are determined to keep litigating the Iraq War. Time and again we were told there were no weapons of mass destruction when the truth is more complicated. Even the New York Times reported considerable discoveries of chemical weapons, which definitely qualified as WMDs—they just weren’t WMD-enough for the media’s preferred narrative.
Fittingly, AMEX starts with the fateful day of September 11th and then flashes back to Bush’s formative years in Texas. To give credit where it is due, co-writer-producers Barak Goodman & Chris Durrance and their on-screen commentators are relatively sympathetic when addressing the awakening of Christian faith that transformed Bush from a hard-drinking slacker into a focused professional—with political aspirations. Of course, much is made of his somewhat strained relationship with his father Bush 41, as one would expect, with good reason.
The AMEX profile is also quite strong when it chronicles Bush’s political rise in Texas (particularly his wooing of Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock), his PEPFAR campaign to treat AIDS in Africa (saving approximately 5 million lives, according to estimates), and his handling of the financial crisis (in fact, the talking heads are so laudatory, it will start to make many viewers suspicious). Weirdly, the pivotal and defining period of 9/11 and its aftermath is handled rather perfunctorily, like it embarrasses Goodman & Durrance to consider the full implications of a coordinated terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Still, there is no getting around the calcified biases that dominate the discussion of the Iraq War, which in turn is the centerpiece of the AMEX profile. Ironically, many of the journalists who criticize Bush for not examining his preconceptions (which he in fact abandoned with his decision to initiate “the Surge”) and engaging in public self-criticism, refuse to follow their own prescription with respect to their Iraq coverage.
Frankly, AMEX’s George W. Bush is probably more balanced than a lot of PBS viewers would prefer, but it suggests it is probably too early for a measured and balanced appraisal of Bush 43’s administration (even though it is sorely needed). Let’s be honest, George W. Bush was the last president we’ve had who really believed America could and should play a constructive role on the world stage. In retrospect, the tandem of Obama and Trump has been especially damaging, because they both followed a policy of retreat and disengagement. Obama just couched it in terms of servile multilateralism, while Trump has used the vocabulary of isolationism, but the net effect has been the same, leaving China a free hand to dominate the South China Sea, Africa, and the belt-and-road nations.
An additional thing AMEX and company get right is Bush’s optimism. He understood America lost its optimism since his the early years of his father’s administration and he tried to re-instill it. He failed, but he was right to try, because optimism makes us better as a people. Unfortunately, Clinton, Obama, and Trump all did their best to weaponize pessimism during their campaigns—and we’ve since paid a price as a nation. Frustratingly not recommended, American Experience’s George W. Bush airs this Monday (5/4) and Tuesday (5/5) on PBS stations nationwide.