Since The New York Times ran some excerpts from Robert Draper's Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, the blogosphere — both mainstream and arcane — has been filled with comments about the president's post-presidential plans to build "a fantastic Freedom Institute."
Now, from a guy who referred to the Sept. 11 terrorists as "evildoers" and reduced the office of the presidency to being "the decider," it doesn't take a leap of faith to believe he'd build a joint that sounds like (INSERT COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO JOKE).
But to mock our grammatically challenged president for giving an overreaching, cartoonish moniker to his institute leads one astray from what really needs to be discussed — and what seems to be at the heart of Draper's book. The title alone, Dead Certain, says it all: that Bush is resolute in his decisions and ultimately does not look for, or care to truly consider, opinions that run counter to his desires. Again, in and of itself, not exactly a revelation. The book, however, does offer up some bright, shiny new nuggets of alleged recalcitrance. Apparently, even the decision to bring Dick Cheney on the ticket was done over the stringent objections of Bush's closest adviser, Karl Rove, who saw the move as seeming "needy."
So, then, here is what seems fantastic about Bush's plans for his next act: It is not that a man who took us to war wishes his legacy to be about freedom. If there were a Nobel Prize for hypocrisy, I think John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson would be running neck and neck with Bush. What's "fantastic" about Bush's plans is that he wants to propagate freedom without seeming to understand the fundamentals of liberty.
It ain't all about bombs and tanks and diplomacy from the working end of a gun. It is about unrestricted exchange. It is about occupying real estate where reasonable people publicly tussle over tough ideas. It is opinion given unadorned rather than served with ginned-up intelligence or hidden behind executive privilege and presidential clemency or warrantless wiretaps. Freedom — as trite as it sounds — requires vigilance and oversight. And fortunately, our system has been set up so that there are those who can watch the watchmen even when public disclosure runs counter to national security.
But time and again — in the run up to the Iraq war through the firing of federal prosecutors — the president has shown abject disregard for contrary opinion, full disclosure and governmental oversight. I would hate to think the president, or anyone for that matter, would gather young leaders and school them that the path to freedom is paved with autocratic tendencies.
With fear of stating the obvious: Freedom belongs to "We the People," not "They the Politicians." We are the deciders, it's our government and we have a right to know. Before he builds himself an institute — magical, marvelous or otherwise — what would be fantastic is if George Bush finished his term by demonstrating he understood as much.