The President Who Might Have Been, But Never Was

As Trump scandals begin moving into actual criminal indictments, with looming prison time, one sports event symbolizes, at least for me, the tragedy of our 43rd President, the President whose love for baseball was unsurpassed.

Otsuka was pitching when Yuli came to bat. It was the bottom of the 9th and things were desperate.

Cinderella teams in baseball often fight to come from behind. That’s what Cinderella teams do. But this was harder than most: down 4-0 before even coming to bat in the first, way behind all the way through the game. And this was for baseball’s final world championship game of 2006.

But the 6th and the 8th innings were the miracle innings, fighting back to within a run. 6 to 5.

The top of the ninth looked like a repeat of the first, giving up 4 more. The score was 10 to 6, when second baseman Yuli Gurriel became a last hope.

That hope was crushed for Cuba, as Japan’s Akinori Otsuka stuck out Gurriel.

Japan had won the World Baseball Classic.

The connection of that event with George W. Bush is not widely recognized.

The madcap administration of Donald Trump has provided President Bush with a sort of renaissance. He is regarded more fondly than when his own administration wound down. In one major, very sharp cut, President Bush did not need to mention his target by name.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.

He invoked Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Martin Luther King as founders of a national ethos:

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.

And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

He again made clear who represents danger to what has become the American ideal.

Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

It was a remarkable departure from the loopy sort of George W. Bush that many of us remember:

I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.

– February 29, 2000

It was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship.

– June 29, 2006

People of Bulgaria ought to be proud of the achievements that they have achieved.

– June 11, 2007

These immigrants have helped transform 13 small colonies into a great and growing nation of more than 300 people.

– July 4, 2008

Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.

– September 6, 2004

There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.

– September 17, 2002

It was as if Dan Quayle had become President. But syntax and public persona are not all that goes into a Presidency. Dan Quayle surrounded himself with experts, developing a sort of traveling one-student university. On the few occasions that President George H. W. Bush was out of the country, Vice President Quayle made Presidential decisions that were informed and wise.

When we remember some of the public pronouncements of Bush43, we can, and should, wince at the destruction that accompanied the foolishness.

We should remember how Clinton officials, about to leave the White House, pleaded with the incoming administration to take seriously the network of bin Laden directed terrorists.

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

– August 5, 2004

Bush people laughed at the concern. Then came 9/11.

That takes away some of the humor.

And of course, Iraq. The invasion to oust a horrible tyrant who had nothing to do with 9/11.

FEMA, America’s rescue agency, had been restaffed with non-professional appointees, unskilled, incompetent, rewarded for their past political support.

The people in Louisiana must know that all across our country there’s a lot of prayer – prayer for those whose lives have been turned upside down. And I’m one of them.

– September 3, 2008

We remember heck-of-a-job Brownie.

We believe, we do not know for sure, the deaths from Katrina did not actually number more than the 2000 estimated. More than 1500 of those who died, died waiting for help in Louisiana.

The lack of Presidential diligence certainly seemed to be a symptom of another deficiency.

A lifelong friend had a theory.

Listen carefully, Burr. This is pretty complicated.

Bush — is— an — idiot.

He paused for a second, and leaned forward.


It wasn’t the first time he and I had disagreed. We haven’t talked about it since. Sleeping dogs, you know.

I have an alternate theory.

George Bush did not run for President because he saw some urgent national need for leadership or policy change. In fact, some changes in the administration ran counter to what I had heard and believed about Dubya for years.

When black women were dismissed from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department because we needed “more Christian men,” which is to say more conservative white men, it didn’t match my perceptions. Young George Bush had an intolerance for racism in his father’s administration, complaining whenever he encountered some bigoted remark.

His “compassionate conservatism” was hard to swallow, but it seemed to be a genuinely held intention.

By all reports, when he was accused, after Katrina, of not caring for black people, those words were personally wounding. That did not strike me as self-serving public relations. In fact, it made him look a little self-involved – thousands died and he was wounded by a few angry words?

But it was the World Baseball Classic that illustrated what I felt to be the truth and the tragedy of George W. Bush.

In 2005, it was announced that 2008 would be the last time Baseball would be an Olympic sport. So fans began looking for an alternative. And they came up with one. 16 teams from around the world would participate in an international playoff hosted by the United States. It would be a true global World Series.

But there was one last major snag. Cuba had some of the best players in the universe, so they pretty much had to be included for the tourney to have any credibility. But our national law made it illegal for any event that would put US currency in the hands of Cuba. The International Baseball Federation said they would cancel the event if Cuba was kept out.

President George W. Bush was always one of the greatest fans of baseball. He was one of the greatest fans of Baseball ever. He was known to have memorized batting averages back to the 1950s.

So the President of the most powerful nation on earth intervened. He personally hammered out a solution with the State Department, the Justice Department, the US Treasury, the Cuban government, and organization officials. It got complicated, but President Bush kept negotiations going, and got it all settled. Cuba would play, and would agree in writing to donate all financial proceeds to Katrina victims.

And that was how Akinori Otsuka came face to face with Yuli Gurriel, and Japan became the Baseball Champions of the world. At least for the following few years. They lost in 2013.

The United States lost in a big way. Katrina, Iraq, the 9/11 attacks, actions to nullify civil rights, efforts to keep black people from voting, the financial meltdown that destroyed much of the economic security of the nation, and the World Baseball Classic, all shared a common thread.

Except for very unusual cases, the interest of the 43rd President did not include public policy. He was, not to be polite about it, lazy regarding his official duties. He left policy and thought to advisors, who politely refrained from bothering him except for an occasional speech. He gave those speeches as written, contorting his face into mock sincerity, dimly aware of the meaning of the words.

Those who ran things for him were in two camps. Many were malignant ideologues with a reckless disregard for those outside the circles of the economically powerful. The rest were rosy cheeked simpletons who happily did as they were told.

The tragedy of George W. Bush is not that he was stupid, but that he was not.

He wanted to become President because it was the coolest gig in the world.

The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

On October 19, 2017, we caught a glimpse of the President we needed, the President who might have been, if he had developed an interest in time.

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