I watch and listen to President Bush of late and am thrilled at the compassionate conservative he is again. On immigration he has worked out a bill that to fix a broken immigration system by granting a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants who deserve to have a the chance for citizenship. On Darfur, he has finally rolled out “Plan B” – a set of sanctions aimed at halting the on-going genocide. And on AIDS in Africa, President Bush announced an additional $30 billion to fight the disease and save lives.
Yes, there are problems with each of these items. On immigration, not enough attention has been paid to family reunification. On Darfur, the announcements should have come far earlier and should have carried more weight. On AIDS, the funding doesn’t begin until after he leaves office.
But the fact is that Bush, who began his campaign for president in 1999 by claiming he was a completely different kind of conservative, is beginning to look like the president he promised he would be – a president willing to take on his own party to lead them down a path of conscience-based conservatism; a president willing to use our government’s resources to help alleviate great suffering; a president defined less by politics and more by compassion.
What makes this moment so tough to take, however, is that these are things he has done in just the past few weeks. It is hard not to fantasize about what the rest of the presidency might have looked like had this same compassion-based politics been at the philosophical center. Imagine, for instance, what would have happened with Katrina. Imagine the lives saved and city and region already rebuilt and bustling with life and energy. Imagine when it came to drug and alcohol treatment and cancer research and homelessness programs and charity tax credits and on and on what might have been. Imagine if you will how different things in Iraq might look right now and the lives not lost. Still, I am deeply thankful that at the end of his days in the White House, he seems to be remembering what he promised he would do in his first days.
What a president he might have been.