Find­ing a legacy to ‘grow’ on

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

Ge­orge W. Bush is free to work on his legacy now, and if he “grows” in of­fice he can ex­pect a lot of help from his en­e­mies. He can re­turn to Prairie Chapel Ranch with his ap­proval rat­ing in the high 50s (and with a lot of in­ex­pen­sive il­le­gal aliens to keep the swim­ming pool clean).

Im­mi­gra­tion, in fact, is the key to build­ing his legacy. Im­prov­ing a pres­i­den­tial legacy is a fool’s er­rand, how­ever, since his­tory makes its own judg­ments, tak­ing no help from ma­nip­u­la­tors.

Harry Tru­man, who has be­come the fa­vorite of Ev­ery­man, was no fool. Mr. Tru­man was im­mensely un­pop­u­lar with the fickle masses and might have left Wash­ing­ton astride a rail if he and Miss Bess had not slipped out of town in their old Ply­mouth first for the drive back to Mis­souri. Those were sim­pler days, of course, and pres­i­dents left of­fice with­out the usual ad­vis­ers, se­cu­rity teams, con­sul­tants for the pres­i­den­tial li­brary and other skilled con men. When some­one asked Mr. Tru­man some time later what he had done on ar­riv­ing back in In­de­pen­dence, he replied: “I took the suit­cases up to the at­tic.” An avid reader of his­tory, he was con­tent with let­ting his­tory — not his­to­ri­ans, but ac­tual his­tory — make its judg­ment of his stew- ard­ship of the great­est gift Amer­i­cans can be­stow. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Nev­er­the­less, Ge­orge W., who is not nec­es­sar­ily an avid reader of his­tory, will be tempted to try to mold a legacy of his own mak­ing. The war in Iraq is the first ob­sta­cle to rais­ing the opin­ion of the wor­thies of the main­stream me­dia, the au­thors of “the first draft of his­tory.” Me­dia wor­thies take their myth-mak­ing very, very se­ri­ously, rarely tak­ing into ac­count that the first draft is nearly al­ways ul­ti­mately rec­og­nized as wrong.

To leave town with “honor” as the myth-mak­ers de­fine it is ev­ery pres­i­dent’s aim. Ge­orge W. made a down pay­ment on a “good” legacy with his sack­ing of Don­ald Rums­feld. But that’s only the be­gin­ning. He has to find a way to cut and run from Iraq to sat­isfy the myth-mak­ers. His old en­e­mies would be will­ing to call “cut and run” some­thing else, and prob­a­bly most Amer­i­cans would be sat­is­fied with leav­ing the Iraqis to settle their the­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­ments with guns, be­head­ing knives, sling­shots, pike poles, stones and clubs through what­ever rit­u­als of the re­li­gion of peace the mul­lahs dic­tate.

The pres­i­dent moved into his new groove yes­ter­day, meet­ing Felipe Calderon, the pres­i­dent-elect of Mex­ico, to as­sure him that now he can get the amnesty for the 12 mil­lion il­le­gals among us. This was good news for Mr. Calderon, who knows that an amnesty for 12 mil­lion will open the way for mil­lions more, as­sur­ing the end­less waves of eas­ily ex­ploited and eas­ily abused cheap la­bor cov­eted by many Amer­i­can em­ploy­ers.

Mr. Calderon ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton with more than a lit­tle chutz­pah. He said af­ter his Oval Of­fice meet­ing that he told Mr. Bush that Mex­ico is not happy about the fence soon to be built on Amer­i­can turf: “I ex­plained to him our con­cern and our opin­ion that it was the wrong mea­sure that would not re­solve the prob­lem.” Mex­ico has threat­ened to take its com­plaint to the United Na­tions, and Mr. Calderon did not say whether Mr. Bush used his op­por­tu­nity to tell the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment that the U.N. has no stand­ing in this dis­pute, and should butt out. Mr. Bush, who has said some tough things in the past about the im­por­tance of re­spect­ing Amer­i­can sovereignty, surely told Mr. Calderon where to get off. In a nice way, of course.

But we shouldn’t count on it. Mr. Bush seemed more con­cerned about not hurt­ing Mex­i­can feel­ings. “I as­sured the pres­i­dent-elect that the words I said [. . .] about a com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion vi­sion are words I still be­lieve strongly,” he said af­ter­ward. Mr. Bush is still hot for his “guest-worker pro­gram,” which is White House code for “amnesty.” Harry Reid, who will soon be the leader of the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, is hot for amnesty, too. “Democrats look for­ward to work­ing with Repub­li­cans to achieve real border se­cu­rity through bi­par­ti­san, tough, fair and prac­ti­cal im­mi­gra­tion re­form.”

The White House sees the il­le­gals as an end­less sup­ply of cheap la­bor, the Democrats as an end­less sup­ply of re­li­able Demo­cratic vot­ers. It’s win-win for the pres­i­dent search­ing for a legacy. Get­ting an amnesty will be proof that he’s fi­nally ca­pa­ble of “grow­ing” in of­fice, and that makes pos­si­ble the legacy his en­e­mies can be proud of.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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