WASHINGTON, April 30, 2013 —Last week all five living presidents, George H. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, gathered together to unveil the new George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The moment marked President Bush emerging back into the public spotlight after time spent below the radar, developing the Bush Foundation with wife Laura, working with children in Africa and encouraging cooperative business alliances between women living in third-world countries.
But while much of the media attention surrounding the library opening centered on Bush’s more controversial decisions and moments, like the war on terror and Hurricane Katrina, Bush’s chief accomplishments and contributions seemed to slip below the public and media radar.
Among those are his appointment of America’s first black Secretary of State, first Black female Secretary of State, and first Hispanic Attorney General.
According to USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page, “Before Bush, no person of color had ever been named to any one of the four most prestigious White House Cabinet jobs at the department of state, treasury, defense and justice.”
The result was, if little else, the tearing down of a subconscious wall. It can be argued the Bush cabinet appointments paved the way for the election of America’s first Black president.
During his time in office, President Bush made 24 presidential appointments including five women, four African Americans, two Hispanics, and two Asian Americans. He was also the first president to deliver a Weekly Radio Address entirely in Spanish, paving the way for the confirmations of 27 Hispanic judges.
President Bush appointed Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban born exile, as Secretary of Commerce.
Bush’s ability to connect with Hispanics, undoubtedly fostered by his time in Texas, and willingness to reach out to Latinos, set him apart from many politicians and resulted in political dividends. Bush received more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote during his second run for president, trumping all Republican presidential candidates before or since.
But, like much of the rest of his presidency, Bush’s outreach did not stop at the U.S. border. He reduced both HIV/AIDS and Malaria in Africa during his two terms in office via PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative, raised primary school enrollment by 36 percent, and amended the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, tripling African exports to more than $67 billion and providing trade benefits to 40 African countries.
“Different people may have different views about you and your administration and your legacy,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said following Bush’s departure from office. “But we in Tanzania, if we are to speak for ourselves and for Africa, we know for sure that you, Mr. President, and your administration have been good friends of our country and have been good friends of Africa.”
Since leaving office The George W. Bush Institute has launched the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon an initiative to bring both public and private investment together to fight cervical and breast cancer in Africa and Latin America.
There is little dispute Bush caused tremendous damage to U.S. credibility abroad and economic policy at home with the invasion of Iraq and the enactment of a $700 billion bank bailout, otherwise known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But his presidency was not that of an incompetent man so much as it was that of a paradoxical man.
On one hand, invasive and draconian laws such as the Patriot Act arguably rolled back civil liberties. On the other, the sociopolitical walls Bush brought down were far larger than any wall Ronald Reagan ever spoke in front of; and the stages he welcomed minorities onto were far greater than any stage Bill Clinton ever blew a saxophone on.
Despite the fact that America has twice elected its first black president, Bush’s presidency continues to remain one of the friendliest presidencies of record to African Americans, Hispanics and women.
Yet few would ever know it because Bush opts not to talk about it or politicize it.
Perhaps indicative of Bush’s larger game plan all along: Let history show. Let history decide. The Bush Presidential Library begins to tell that story.
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