President Bush Unfit to Command
Yoshi Tsurumi (Professor, City University of New York)
In the first presidential debate, many Americans finally saw the same George W. Bush whom I knew as my student at Harvard Business School 30 years ago. He avoided answering questions, threw around incoherent statements and became petulant when addressing his opponent. He willfully misrepresented reality to fit his prejudices and indulged in denial when challenged. For the past four years, I have been warning America about George W. Bush who has surrounded himself with "neo-conservative" ideologues.
From the fall of 1973 to the spring of 1974, he was in my class of economic policies and international business. It required daily students' active participation in teacher-student interactive class discussions. I got to know my students well. I always remember two types of students. Those you feel honored to be teaching, those with strong social values, compassion and intellect. And then, I remember students like George W. Bush, who are totally the opposite. What I saw in them reliably predicts how they will fare after graduating.
In the fall of 1973, we were hit by the Oil Crisis. We discussed how the government should assist low income people and retirees on fixed income with quadrupling heating costs. I remember George W. Bush saying, "We don't have to help poor people because they are just lazy." When challenged to explain, he backtracked, "No, I didn't say that." During the presidential debate in Boston in 2000, Bush promised to increase the fund of LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) that helps low-income people to pay their high fuel bills. Once he went to the White House, however, he sliced deeply the LIHEAP even though people were literally freezing to death, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. I was not surprised about President Bush's flip-flop.
In my class, he also denounced as socialism Roosevelt's New Deal, labor unions, Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security, Medicare and the Civil Rights Movement. President Bush is now proposing to gut Social Security and Medicare under the guise of privatization. He has reneged on the 27 billion dollars he promised to his pet "No Child Left Behind" programs.
Last Thursday night, President Bush still had no plan to fix the Iraq mess. He persisted in the unsupported illusion that the September 11 attacks were engineered by Saddam Hussein. Senator Kerry rightly took the president to task. In my class, George W. Bush often indulged himself in similar illusions to justify his selfish goals. But his continued ignorance of world affairs and lack of knowledge about the real threats to America's security at home and abroad are more dangerous today.
At Harvard, using the examples of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, I explained to my class what it takes to be a true leader: namely, honesty, compassion, moral courage, sincerity, and a "noblesse oblige" at home and abroad. I also stressed the need for real leaders to admit their error truthfully and to change the course of their actions. George W. Bush showed his disdain for such leadership qualities.
Last Thursday night, President Bush falsely painted a rosy picture of Iraq on its way to democracy and liberty. He has deluded himself into believing his own propaganda. He denies his own administration's internal reports of a deepening Iraq quagmire.
Unconcerned about America's increasing isolation in our globally interdependent world, the President boasted that Britain and Poland are his staunch allies in Iraq. But just last week Prime Minister Tony Blair quietly withdrew 5,000 British soldiers from Iraq, and Australia is likely to follow suit. Polish President Alexander Kwansnieski has admitted that he felt misled about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. No new allies are coming forth to help fight Bush's war in Iraq because he has lost his credibility.
George W. Bush as a Harvard student did not let inconvenient reality interfere with his self-righteous obsession. He did not learn one of the most important lessons of my class: When leadership has failed, a change in leadership is necessary to restore the credibility of any organization and to regain the cooperation of others.
For the past three years, it has been President Bush who has "flip-flopped," switching from one falsehood to the next to mislead Americans about Iraq, the war on terror, and about America's economic and human costs of both wars. Senator Kerry and many other Americans initially believed President Bush's promises not to rush to a war with Iraq and to concentrate on fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Like most Americans, Senator Kerry did not think the president would lie. Kerry was correct to charge President Bush on Thursday with a "colossal failure of leadership." It is President George W. Bush who is unfit to command.