Bush Is No ChurchillOn the first night of the festival of political cross-dressing now taking place at New York's Madison Square Garden, otherwise known as the Republican National Convention, Rudolph Giuliani attemped to favorably associate George W. Bush with Winston Churchill. Such an association would be comical if it did not also qualify as an offense against reason.
Any implied association between Churchill and President Bush, based on an honest evaluation of their documented history, behavior and performance, is ludicrous. Winston Churchill took part in the last cavalry charge in British military history. Winston Churchill fought for Queen and Country in the Boer War, was taken prisoner, and escaped from a POW camp. He did not hide behind economic privilege to evade service in a cause he believed in.
Winston Churchill worked incredibly long hours, crafted his own speeches, and even helped design landing vessels during WWII. He was a master of the English language. Unlike Bush, he did not spend nearly twenty percent of his tenure as a war leader on vacation.
Years in advance, Churchill correctly forecast, within a few days, the date for the beginning of WWI. Unlike Bush, he was never caught off-guard while his nation was savagely attacked.
Winston Churchill was one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time – and was never afraid of changing positions once he ascertained that he was on the wrong side of an issue. Churchill wasn't even afraid of changing political parties – beginning his career as a Conservative, then becoming a Liberal, then finally returning to the Conservative Party. Like John Kerry and Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill was a policy wonk who understood that the devil is always in the details.
Churchill wasn't perfect, and reflected the mindset of a 19th century British imperialist. In the early-to-mid 1930s, he was an opponent of Indian independance, for instance. Churchill also suffered from chronic depression (he called it "black dog"), and took to self-medicating with alcohol throughout his life – rather than dealing with the underlying dynamics of his depression. I believe that it is fair to speculate on the degree that his depression and alcoholism impacted the effectiveness of his leadership. As mighty as he was, to evoke the familiar British anthem, Land of Hope and Glory, he might have been mightier yet.
I consider myself a student of Winston Churchill, and George Bush is no Winston Churchill. Unlike John Kerry, George Bush has never demonstrated anything close to Churchill's powerful, independent, always flexible intellect. George W. Bush has never demonstrated the physical courage of Churchill – again, unlike John Kerry. And President Bush absolutely hasn't demonstrated Churchill's uncanny ability to accurately discern the likely shape of the future – once again, unlike John Kerry, who forecast the chaotic scenario we are watching play out today in Iraq. That is why Kerry insisted that, minus the demonstration of an imminent threat posed by a nation whose borders were then tightly controlled through the existence of no-fly zones to its north and south (and, hence, nothing like the scenario that existed with regard to Nazi Germany from 1936 through 1939), President Bush build the kind of wide coalition that his father had assembled to hold Hussein accountable, and that force only be employed as an absolute last resort.
Let me close by documenting one final difference between Churchill and George W. Bush. When France fell in 1940, Churchill formed a coalition government. He created a spirit in Great Britain where there were no Conservatives, no Labor Party members, no Liberals, just Englishmen united against a common enemy. In comparison, George W. Bush used 9/11 as an opportunity to divide America, pursue radical economic and social policies, and exploit the specter of Bin Laden to smear the reputation of Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee, not to mention any Democrat who sought to oppose his radical policies. Whereas Winston Churchill was truly a force for unity in Britain's hour of need, George Bush has been nothing but a crass political opportunist. Hence, Rudolph Giuliani dishonors Churchill's name by even tangentially linking it with President Bush. Bush is no Churchill. Bush would be lucky to be the man, or the President, his father was. Winston is way out of Dubya's league.
Matthew Carnicelli © 2004. All rights reserved.
Originally published August 31, 2004; revised September 1, 2004.