The Humility of George W. Bush

By Doug Patton

December 1, 2003

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C. S. Lewis

Doug PattonAs President George W. Bush wages our war against worldwide terrorism, the Left continues to perpetrate the misconception that he is some kind of cowboy when it comes to his use of the American military, a swaggering Texan who fantasizes about the Gunfight at the Baghdad Corral. It is the same label they tried to hang on Ronald Reagan as he was bringing the Soviet Union to its knees.

There is little doubt that the frequently jocular Bush exudes a steely-eyed confidence that tells people when he is serious. He had that look in his eye when he addressed the nation at a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, and he had it again as he spoke in that mess tent in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day, 2003. Bush took a great risk to fly into the heart of Iraq in order to spend time with American troops rather than with his family in the safety of his Texas ranch. It was a bold thing to do, and there is no question that it will have tremendous political ramifications for the president’s reelection next year.

But it would be a grave mistake to label Bush as either arrogant or egocentric. Quite the contrary: his strength comes from his humility, not his ego. The humble man leads out of a sense of duty, resolve and devotion to a purpose greater than himself, while the saber-rattling narcissist stands nervously on the unstable ground of his own ego and searches for a mission. That is the great contrast of George W. Bush and his predecessor.

America had the misfortune to have Bill Clinton as its president in June 1994, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. For the sake of a phony photo opportunity, Clinton made a mockery of the sacrifice of thousands of brave troops who bled the beach red at Normandy fifty years earlier. Remember? There he was, the President of the United States, walking along the beach, looking contemplative, as though he was completely unaware of the camera recording his actions, when he happened upon a pile of stones. Kneeling down, he formed them into the shape of a cross. It was all very touching, until it was revealed that the stones were placed there by advance men, and Clinton was fully aware of the entire charade.

Contrast that with what Bush did in Iraq. As the troops saw their commander-in-chief emerge to address them as they gathered for their Thanksgiving meal, the response was one that could not be manufactured. The mutual respect was evident, and as the president spoke, the patriotism and the determination that so frightens the left was absolutely palpable.

But it was what came next that truly set this president apart. He could have spoken to the troops and left. He could have sat down at an elevated head table set up for him and his general officers and allowed the troops the thrill of dining in the same room with him. Or he could have simply sat among them, eating the same food they did. Any of those options would have been acceptable.

Instead, he acted out of humility. Following the example of the person he told us during the 2000 campaign he most admires, Jesus Christ, the president served the troops their Thanksgiving dinner and talked to them one by one as they filed through the line.

Presidents do what they want to do. They may listen to their political advisors, but in the end, they call the shots. This president chose to be a servant. That should tell us a great deal about the nature and strength of his character.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns can be read in newspapers across the country, on, and on, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service ( Readers can e-mail him at