Thursday, September 23, 2004

Looking Back: From a historical perspective, George W. Bush seems to be this generation's Andrew Jackson.

There is an everyman quality that both Jackson and Bush share. Both were despised by the intellectual elite for being so -- American. Although they were both well-to-do aristocrats who had achieved financial success, both seemed more comfortable with the common folk. Jackson ran on a platform that the common man could be president. Bush has been an inspiration for C-students everywhere.

Neither man was considered well mannered. In fact, the social elite in Jackson's day considered him to be boorish and inept, just like they think of Bush today.

Jackson and Bush also embodied America's cojones. They were brass cowboys who alarmed foreign leaders and pacifists in this country. But they also provided the strength America needed when times got rough.

Both used the power of the presidency to the extreme. Jackson would often ignore rulings from the Supreme Court. Bush has not gone that far, but he has tested the powers of the executive branch with two wars, detention of foreign fighters at Guantanamo Bay, and even holding some American suspected terrorists for extended periods.

But neither Jackson nor Bush proved to be forward thinking on social issues. Jackson was a racist. In addition to owning slaves, he used the military to attack Native American nations, driving them further off their land. Thousands of Native Americans died, many of them through a torturous journey from Georgia to Oklahoma in the dead of winter, which came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Jackson's mindset on racial matters was completely in line with America at that time. But history has judged him harshly.

Bush is not a racist, but he is homophobic. While many Americans are still uncomfortable with homosexuality, Bush has overreacted with his proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage and civil unions between same-sex couples. Bush will lose that fight and homosexuals will most likely gain further strides in civil rights. As a result, the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment will become Bush's Trail of Tears. While many people agree with the president now, Bush will find himself on the wrong side of history.

But Jackson and Bush both made political decisions that seemed risky at the time with an eye on paying big dividends in the future. Jackson angered the South in 1832 when he approved a new tariff that was passed by Congress to protect Northern industry. South Carolina asserted states rights and attempted to nullify the law within its borders. If the federal government didn't allow the state to defend its sovereignty, then South Carolina threatened to secede from the union, likely bringing other Southern states with it.

Jackson responded by getting Congress to pass the Force Act, allowing federal troops to invade South Carolina if it tried to secede. The United States was on the brink of a Civil War. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and the tariff was lowered slightly. And war between the North and South was delayed for another 30 years.

After 9/11, Bush invaded Afghanistan under the clear mandate to destroy the Taliban, which was supporting the terrorist group Al Qaeda. But then he turned his sights on Iraq for violating United Nations resolutions, refusing to prove it destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, and for supporting terrorist groups. Above all else, Bush wanted to transform the Middle East from a wasteland of despotism and oppression that breeds terrorism to a democratic and free region where people can thrive and won't need to live under desperate conditions.

Many in the world thought Bush was going too far, and the president's popularity has sunk as a result. But the strong actions Bush took in Iraq won't bring noticeable results for decades.

To be sure, there are many differences between the two presidents. Jackson was a war hero before president. Bush was a draft dodger. Jackson was a populist who represented the common man and hated banks and business. Bush is well tied and supported by big business and other rich and powerful people. And Jackson's popularity never waned. Bush is gearing up for a tough re-election battle.

Still, many presidents who were despised by their enemies of their time went on to become glorified later. Presidents like Lincoln and Jackson adorn our currency, despite the controversy they caused in office. History will determine whether Bush ranks as a great success or a miserable failure.


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