The Ripon Forum

Volume 40, No. 4

Aug - Sept 2006 Issue

The Backpage

By on October 19, 2015 with 0 Comments

The Lodestar of George W. Bush


In 1991, the historian James McPherson published a book entitled,Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. The book was a collection of essays about the Civil War and our Nation’s sixteenth President. 

One of the essays was called, “The Hedgehog and the Foxes.” In it, McPherson quoted the Greek poet Archilochus, who wrote that, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” McPherson used this quote to argue that, in his single-minded pursuit of policies which were guided by a central vision, Lincoln was very much like a hedgehog. 

In reading McPherson’s essay, it is remarkable how easily one could apply the points he makes about President Lincoln to President George W. Bush today. Like Lincoln, President Bush finds himself in the middle of a controversial war. Like Lincoln, President Bush has been harshly criticized for his prosecution of the war.  Like Lincoln, President Bush leads a  political party in which many candidates are trying to distance themselves from him as the fall elections draw near. 

Perhaps the most striking similarity, though, is that, like Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush is driven by a single, central vision – what McPherson called the “lodestar.” President Lincoln’s lodestar was putting the Union back together. For President Bush, it is making sure our country is not attacked again. As McPherson noted in his essay, Lincoln was “surrounded by foxes who considered themselves smarter than he but who lacked his depth of vision and therefore sometimes pursued unrelated and contradictory ends.” These were men like Horace Greeley and William Seward, who at various times encouraged the President to make a deal with the confederacy and bring an early end to the war. Lincoln refused, and history has proven him right. 

bushIt is obviously too early to tell whether history will prove George W. Bush right in the course he has taken for our Nation. The war in Iraq is, seemingly, a long way from resolution. And, although scholars like Walid Phares make a persuasive case that, in the long run, establishing a democracy in that country is the right thing to do because it brought down a tyrant and interrupted the spread of Jihadism across the globe, in the short run, many Americans clearly have their doubts. Similarly, although knowledgeable officials like Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King make a good case that important steps have been taken to strengthen our homeland security, there are clearly some who believe that the steps taken so far have not been enough. Only history will tell who was right. 

Until that time, George Bush finds himself surrounded by foxes. Foxes who supported the decision to send troops to Iraq in 2003 but who now say the mission was a mistake and our troops should be withdrawn. Foxes who supported bills like the Patriot Act when they were passed in 2001 and 2002 but who now say these laws went too far and portions of them should be repealed. Foxes who supported the President when he stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center but who now view him more as a political liability and someone to avoid. 

History will indeed tell us who was right. But history already tells us this: Presidents are not elected to deal with small things. Jimmy Carter scheduled tennis courts; Ronald Reagan defeated communism. You don’t need to be a historian to know which one used his time in office the best. Like Lincoln, Reagan was a hedgehog. And so, too, is George W. Bush. 

For good or for bad, he has dedicated his presidency to fighting terrorism. And despite the criticism of how he has managed various aspects of this fight, and despite other initiatives he has pursued like reforming Social Security that have been anything but a success, the fact remains that America hasn’t been attacked in five years.  

We could be attacked tomorrow. We could be attacked next week. But for the past 60 months, the President has kept our country safe and our citizens secure. In short, he has gotten the job done.  

And in that important regard, the lodestar of George W. Bush has proven to be right.  RF

Louis M. Zickar is the Editor of the Ripon Forum.

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