Well, Sue Cross called my bluff right back. In last week’s Viewpoints, I challenged her to say something nice about Bill Clinton as president, and if she did, I would say something nice about George W. Bush as president. Sue didn’t waste any time sending in her response, which you can read on the opposing (so to speak) page. She said she respected Mr. Clinton and “many other Democrats.” I can’t say the same for W. and the GOP, though I’m a fan of Judy Baar Topinka and have considerable respect for John McCain. I would seriously consider voting for him in 2008, especially if he’s up against a spineless, mealy-mouthed Democrat (I don’t have much respect for that party, either). Sue Cross frequently implies in her letters that my lack of respect is evidence of a character shortfall. I contend it’s about higher standards.

I can, however, say some “nice” things about George W. Bush. Yes, most of them have a “but” attached, but I’m not attaching the “buts” because Sue did a pretty good job of keeping them out of her response.

I do, for instance, respect the fact that Mr. Bush turned around his early problems with drinking and drugs. That’s not a back-handed compliment. I have great regard for anyone who has recovered from substance abuse. In many ways, they are the real heroes in this society because they’ve proven authentic change is possible. They don’t get nearly enough compassion, credit, and praise for their struggles.

I actually have more respect for George W. Bush as president than George Bush Sr. In my opinion, the latter defines mediocrity in public service. W. at least has a pulse, an edge, and some of “the vision thing.” I still have no idea why George Bush Sr. wanted to be president.

Overall, George W. was a more effective candidate than John Kerry. He was feisty, determined, wanted it more, and was willing to do what it takes. The Democrats should learn something from that. W. came back from his abysmal, embarrassing performance in the first debate and actually held his own in the second and third. That was partly because Kerry backed off and became too sedate and polite, but the fact remains, W. improved his performance considerably.

He is clearly very decisive as president. Decisiveness can be a good thing.

I give him credit for coming out in favor of a manned mission to Mars. Americans need a challenge and a goal (other than protecting our affluence from the rest of the world). John F. Kennedy proved that when Americans are challenged, we rise to the occasion. A manned flight to Mars, if we could pay for it, would pay off with many unforeseen benefits, just as the moonlandings did.

I give Mr. Bush credit for taking some responsibility for the Katrina screw-up. I also was gratified to hear his comments about the need to address the persistent problems of poverty and racism in the region. If he follows up those nice words with real action, I’ll heap praise on him.

That’s the best I can do. In response to Sue’s statement, “I believe that any man who ascends to the presidency is worthy of respect, especially the respect of those who have a public milieu in which to air their opinions,” I’m afraid I can’t agree. As Mark Twain (I think) said, “Respect for the office always, respect for the office-holder when he [or she] earns it.” It is our job to critique the performance of our presidents (if you take democracy at all seriously).

Perhaps we should reverse the challenge, Sue: If you’re willing to criticize Mr. Bush, I’ll criticize Mr. Clinton’s performance as president.

What do you say?

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