The Call That Bush Didn't Make
By David S. Broder
Sunday, January 18, 2009; B07

In his valedictory interview with the White House press corps and 
in his farewell address to the nation, President Bush struck a 
more reflective tone than during most of his two terms in office. 
He acknowledged some mistakes and "disappointments," including 
Abu Ghraib, the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 
and his decision to emphasize Social Security reform instead of 
immigration law changes after his 2004 reelection.

But I listened in vain for any admission of what I and others 
consider the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency -- 
his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people 
when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 

Some cite failures ranging from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to 
Hurricane Katrina and the neglect of the environment and the 
working class.

But for all the outrages in those areas, I thought the most 
damaging to the American people -- both those living now and 
those yet unborn -- was placing the entire cost of Bush's 
ambitious, if not misguided, national security policy on the 
tiny fraction of American families with loved ones in the armed 

Iraq and Afghanistan are the main fronts in the fourth major 
war of my lifetime, following World War II, Korea and Vietnam, 
and the first in which nothing was asked of the civilian 
population -- no higher taxes, nothing to disrupt the comfort 
of daily life.

The day after the assaults on the World Trade Center and the 
Pentagon, Bush himself said, "The deliberate and deadly attacks 
which were carried out yesterday against our country were more 
than acts of terror. They were acts of war." He immediately asked 
Congress for an emergency spending bill to bolster civil defenses 
and pay for the call-up of reserves.

At Washington National Cathedral, he spoke of the "eloquent acts 
of sacrifice" performed by many who gave their lives in Lower 
Manhattan and Northern Virginia, and he quoted FDR's earlier 
tribute to "the warm courage of national unity."

But in that moment, when the country was truly unified and the 
people were more than ready to sacrifice, Bush asked for . . . 
nothing. He spoke of the need for "patience" and "resolve," 
but at a news conference at Camp David on Sept. 15, 2001, he was 
asked, "Sir, how much of a sacrifice are ordinary Americans going 
to have to be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily 

Bush's first words were: "Our hope, of course, is that they make 
no sacrifice whatsoever. We would like to see life return to normal 
in America."

The biggest sacrifice that came to his mind: "These people have 
declared war on us . . . people may not be able to board flights 
as quickly" as usual.

And that is what Bush's concept of sacrifice amounted to. Over 
the next few years, families of active-duty, National Guard and 
reserve volunteers sacrificed mightily in the form of repeated 
deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and involuntary extensions 
of tours of duty, not to mention deaths and wounds by the thousands.

As for other Americans, as John McCain repeatedly noted last year, 
the only thing they were asked to do was "go shopping."

Meanwhile, the president who asked nothing of the country continued 
to squander the budget surpluses he inherited while pressing larger
and larger tax cuts on the wealthiest of his constituents and 
supporters. Tax cuts became the sovereign remedy for everything in 
the Bush years, even, or especially, when it became clear that the 
budgets had turned to deficits and we were borrowing abroad to 
finance these revenue giveaways.

The upside-down logic of borrowing in order to cut taxes pervaded 
the rest of our public and private economic decision making, 
feeding the speculative booms that fueled unsustainable "bubbles" 
in financial and housing markets.

Now the inevitable crash has come, and the nation is facing a 
deficit of more than $1.2 trillion -- an unimaginable sum -- 
in the current year.

"The simple fact," says Peter Orszag, the incoming head of the 
Office of Management and Budget, "is that under current policies 
the federal budget is on an unsustainable path."

It has been on that path for many years, particularly since 
President Bush declared war on America's enemies without asking 
for the higher taxes needed to pay for it. Your grandchildren 
will be paying for that misjudgment.