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Where Bush bettered Lincoln and FDR

THE opening of the presidential library of George Walker Bush at Southern Methodist University gave his supporters an opportunity to remind Americans that the man served his nation well.

What Bush didn't do is what intrigues me most.

To be sure, Bush accomplished much and was, in his words, "misunderestimated."

Keith Hennessey recently gave his graduate students at Stanford's business school some surprising insights into the intellect of Bush, whom Hennessey served as senior White House economic advisor.

"President Bush is extremely smart by any traditional standard," Hennessey said. "He's highly analytical and was incredibly quick to be able to discern the core question he needed to answer.

"It was occasionally a little embarrassing when he would jump ahead of one of his Cabinet secretaries in a policy discussion and the advisor would struggle to catch up.

"He would sometimes force us to accelerate through policy presentations because he so quickly grasped what we were presenting."

Like President Reagan before him, Bush was smart enough to play dumb.

"Mitt Romney's campaign was predicated on 'I am smart enough to fix a broken economy,' while George W. Bush's campaigns stressed his values, character, and principles rather than boasting about his intellect," Hennessey said.

"He never talked about graduating from Yale and Harvard Business School, and he liked to lower expectations by pretending he was just an average guy."

Which Harvard MBA did the people elect president and which did they not?

Presidents should not be measured by the size of their brains, their hearts or even their courage.

That's Wizard of Oz stuff.

A case could be made for Nixon being the smartest, Carter having the biggest heart, and Jackson being the most courageous.

Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis and the Trail of Tears revealed what utter disasters they were as president.

We measure presidents by what they did — and we should also consider what they did not do.

George Washington is the greatest president because he served rather than ruled.

He never sought the job and left after two terms, setting a limit on presidential power that all presidents followed — until Franklin Roosevelt.

Bush makes my top 10 because, faced with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he showed similar restraint.

Unlike Lincoln, Bush refused to suspend habeas corpus. While the Geneva Conventions do not require legal representation for enemy combatants, Bush made sure lawyers were provided.

Liberals railed against the prison at Gitmo, but after giving his word that he would close Gitmo in his first year, President Obama has kept it open.

Unlike FDR, who interned American citizens of Japanese origin after Pearl Harbor, Bush's first speech to Americans after 9/11 was to remind them of the peaceful nature of Muslim Americans.

His words were prescient. With few exceptions, Muslims in this country have been as supportive as anyone of the war on terrorism.

Bush knew that terrorists want a clash of civilizations and he was not about to give them one.

I do not mean to imply that Bush was better than Lincoln or FDR, only that Bush learned from the mistakes of every previous president — including his father.

The biggest lesson to learn from the 43rd president is the importance of moderation.

Bush had tremendous power as the leader of the free world, and the sense to be judicious in wielding it.

Surber's email is


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