At this moment when we're looking forward hopefully to all that President Obama will do, many are also taking time to reflect (and some to argue) on the presidency of George W. Bush. Many of my colleagues in the clergy are inclined to defend Mr. Bush, if for no other reason than the fact that he wears his Christianity on his sleeve and so comfortably tosses around many "Christian" buzz-words.
Personally I think that while President Bush is probably a very good man, he was a very bad President. I disagreed with a number of his policies, but ultimately that's not why he was a bad President. George W. Bush was a bad President because he never stopped to ask if what he was doing was right.
In his farewell address the other night, President Bush illustrated his highly dualistic view of the world when he said "good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise". This is a wonderful theological statement but it can't serve as a governing principle in a world that is infinitely more complex than he was willing to admit.
President Bush always assumed that what he was doing was good and that those who opposed him were on the side of evil. He demonstrated this view time and time again, beginning after 9/11 when he told foreign governments that they were either "with us or against us". He never asked if the things his administration was doing were good or evil because he assumed that he was right and that the ends justified the means. It never occurred to him that one could do evil in the pursuit of good. This lack of curiosity and reflection was what made George W. Bush a bad President.
President Obama has demonstrated that he is a very reflective person with tremendous curiosity about what we are doing and why we are doing it. He believes in good and evil, but he does not assume that any nation or even any person can fall completely into one category or another.
He illustrated this in his inaugural address when he said, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our values". This is not a man who sees the world as black and white (in all the different senses of the term), even though he believes in right and wrong. He is able to see the "both/and" possibilities without being overly relativistic.
Regardless of our political affiliations, I hope we can all be happy that we now have a President who asks difficult questions of himself and those around him and who doesn't automatically assume that he is always right and that the ends always justify the means.
Best wishes, Mr. President. Our prayers are with you.