“September 11 redefined sacrifice. It redefined duty. And it redefined my job. The story of that week is the key to understanding my presidency.” – George W. Bush
Every leader has a story. George W. Bush does an excellent job telling his story in his memoir Decision Points. This book had been on my reading list for a while but it wasn’t until last summer when I lived in Central America that I finally got around to reading it. There, in a concrete block room with a single light over head, I read Bush’s account of his presidency as the daily rainstorms prevented me from going outside.
Simply hearing the name George W. Bush provokes a wide range of sentiments in the hearts of Americans — particularly in the hearts of Central Americans whom I was surrounded by as I read the book.
Even so, love him or hate him, we can all learn from him.
If you follow me on twitter, you know that I love quotes. And I know that people would get tired of me tweeting out Bush quotes four years after his presidency is over. So, below, I’ve shared some of the quotes I highlighted throughout the book as I read it. The chapter titles the quotes come from are in bold.
They offer unique insights into what I would argue is the most difficult job in the world. The ones I’ve included here largely center around leadership, but I’ve also included some that stuck out to me as a lover of political science and as a pastor. After all, George W. Bush is one of the most famous members of the United Methodist Church in the world today.
If these quotes spark your interest, I’d highly recommend this book. For as my friend Kate Hofler writes in her review of the book, “It will offer incredible insight into what the leader of our country was thinking for eight years of your life.”
My Scripture readings had clarified the nature of temptation and the reality that the love of earthly pleasures could replace the love of God. My problem was not only drinking; it was selfishness.
When you know you have unconditional love, there is no point in rebellion and no need to fear failure.
There’s nothing wrong with using the Bible as a guide to self-improvement, he [Billy Graham] said. Jesus’ life provides a powerful example for our own. But self-improvement is not really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.
Billy explained that we are all sinners, and that we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds. He made clear that the path to salvation is through the grace of God. And the way to find that grace is to embrace Christ as the risen Lord—the son of a God so powerful and loving that He gave His only son to conquer death and defeat sin.
I learned that allowing your opponent to define you is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in a campaign.
The first lesson in electoral politics is to consolidate your base.
I worried about a culture of “if it feels good, do it” and “if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else.”
The people you choose to surround you determine the quality of advice you receive and the way your goals are implemented.
I also brought [to the Oval Office] a painting called Rio Grande from an El Paso artist and friend, Tom Lea, and a scene of a horseman charging up a hill by W.H.D. Koerner. The name of the piece, A Charge to Keep, echoed a Methodist hymn by Charles Wesley, which we sang at my first inauguration as governor. Both the painting and hymn reflect the importance of serving a cause larger than oneself.
Timeliness is important to make sure an organization does not get sloppy.
If they cannot answer concisely and in plain English, it raises a red flag that they may not fully grasp the subject.
The fact that they [unborn children] could not speak for themselves only enhanced society’s duty to defend them.
Day of Fire
September 11 redefined sacrifice. It redefined duty. And it redefined my job. The story of that week is the key to understanding my presidency.
America has a longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and I continued it. I knew that if I accepted one terrorist’s demands, it would only encourage more kidnappings.
That is the nature of the presidency. Perceptions are shaped by the clarity of hindsight. In the moment of decision, you don’t have that advantage.
After the nightmare of September 11, America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil. If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it.
Getting to know a fellow world leader’s personality, character, and concerns made it easier to find common ground and deal with contentious issues.
“If you would win a man to your cause,” Lincoln once said, “first convince him that you are his friend.”
When I entered politics, I made a decision: I would confront problems, not pass them on to future.
“Government can hand out money,” I said, “but it cannot put hope in a person’s heart or a sense of purpose in a person’s life.”
My favorite Bible verse for politicians is Matthew 7:3—“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.
I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions. Yet in the days after Katrina, that didn’t happen. The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions. It was that I took too long to decide.
I faced a lot of criticism as president. … But the suggestion that I was a racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low. I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today.
Another problem was that the traditional model of foreign aid was paternalistic: A wealthy donor nation wrote a check and told the recipient how to spend it. I decided to take a new approach in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. We would base our relationships on partnership, not paternalism. We would trust developing countries to design their own strategies for using American taxpayer dollars. In return, they would measure their performance and be held accountable. The result would be that countries felt invested in their own success, while American taxpayers could see the impact of their generosity.
According to one study, the benefits of trade are forty times more effective in reducing poverty than foreign aid.
I drew strength from family, friends, and faith.
Critics charged that the freedom agenda was a way for America to impose our values on others. But freedom is not an American value; it is a universal value. Freedom cannot be imposed; it must be chosen. And when people are given the choice, they choose freedom.
During a lunch in the East Room, I turned to him [Hu Juntao, President of China] with a question that I liked to ask fellow world leaders: “What keeps you up at night?”
I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew there would be tough days. Self-pity is a pathetic quality in a leader. It sends such demoralizing signals to the team and the country. As well, I was comforted by my conviction that the Good Lord wouldn’t give a believer a burden he couldn’t handle.
Democratic capitalism, while imperfect and in need of rational oversight, is by far the most successful economic model ever devised.
I knew some of the decisions I had made were not popular with many of my fellow citizens. But I felt satisfied that I had been willing to make the hard decisions, and I had always done what I believed was right.
Whatever the verdict on my presidency, I’m comfortable with the fact that I won’t be around to hear it. That’s a decision point only history will reach.