Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush attended a ceremony in Philadelphia on Sunday where they were awarded the Liberty Medal, a token strung around their necks by red, white, and blue ribbon to signal the event’s focus on patriotism. The ceremony’s invited guests were dressed to the nines. Joe Biden, smiling wide, stood on stage and fixed the clasp so that the ribbon tapered down George’s lapel just so. All was well.
The National Constitution Center announced the Bushes would receive the award back in September. George and Laura were being recognized, specifically, for founding and funding the Military Service Initiative, which has provided job training and funding for health insurance and PTSD counseling for veterans coming out of war since 2001. That is, the Bushes threw part of their personal fortunes at wounded vets returning home from war, buying them a shiny trinket and the respect of their fellow shakers and movers. Which war(s) was their fortune being thrown at? It’s hard to say. Does it matter? They’ve already got the medal, after all. Why sully the mood of this upstanding crowd with the details?
It was nothing new, just another round of elitist, masturbatory back-patting, an age-old tradition that will long outlive my time in America and on this planet. Hell, George W. isn’t even the first George Bush to wear the damn thing. But you’re not alone if Sunday’s proceedings seemed like a particularly hollow, jagged slash at any future effort of seeking justice for veterans. The whole affair was a kneecapping of any idea that didn’t fit with the orthodoxy on display: keeping the millionaire recipients of this dimly-conceived excuse to throw an awards ball happy while the American military machine hums along overseas and out of view.
Those being generous would call what the Bushes did in founding their charity a paltry attempt at retribution; those being honest would call it a craven manipulation of the charity system and elites with short memories. There was no other reason that the Military Service Initiative or the Liberty Medal were created over than to hastily scrub the blood from underneath the war hawk’s finger nails. All told, it seems to have worked: It was enough to land them on that exact stage in Philadelphia, with a famous member of the opposing political party shaking their hands, wishing them well, telling them how much they deserve to be standing in that spot. There was no public chastisement, no solemn nods, no modicum of regret or doubt. There was only Biden, chiding our politics today for being too mean, right after he graciously honored a man that sent thousands of Americans and Lord only knows how many innocent Iraqi and Afghan citizens to their deaths, because that is the price of civility, apparently.
“As president, Bush was my opposition as chairman of the foreign relation committee,” Biden was quoted as saying at the ceremony. “He was never my enemy. Think about how demeaning our politics has become in terms of how we talk about one another. It was opposition, not enemies.”
The Bushes are a great American success story. The former president managed to start two deeply unpopular wars that continue to this day, only to have his tarnished reputation rehabilitated as a mediocre painter and a hilariously odd pal to Michelle Obama. George W. Bush’s birthright is being an insanely wealthy failson who was still able to drift ever higher, like a balloon released too soon by a distracted child, one that bumped and floated all the way to the Oval Office, where the stakes became much more real. If there was justice in how history is told, Bush would be little more than the butt of a joke or a reminder of the dangers of allowing the vacuous offspring of the rich to populate the offices they vacate. Instead, he’s hoisted up as a hero, a man viewed by other elites on both sides of the aisle as a citizen worthy of not just being allowed into the highest rings of society, but of being honored by the few allowed to traipse within those rings. It is the perfect grift.