Impressions of presidents: Two students share their personal experiences

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Louis Hannegan
Commentary Editor

At the end of last semester, I had the opportunity to attend a small Christmas party hosted by President George W. Bush at his house in Dallas.  Since that memorable afternoon, family and friends have frequently asked me what President Bush was like as a person.  In thinking about this question, I have come up with a variety of different qualities, ranging from boyish to sincere to rugged.  Of all these qualities, however, three stand out as most indicative of President Bush’s personality and character: humble, simple and genuine.  And it is the combination of these similar yet distinct attributes that best characterizes the man with whom I chatted a month ago.

He was humble.  When I arrived at President Bush’s house, he himself opened the door for me, welcomed me into his home, and offered me something to drink.  There were plenty of assistants and waiters at hand, but President Bush chose to perform these tasks himself as if he were simply another staffer at the party.  Every other guest, whether the former head of TSA or mere student, received that same personalized service from the man who had more influence and prestige than all of his guests combined.  From opening the door and offering drinks to directing people to the buffet table,

President Bush spent his afternoon not in being served but in serving.

He was simple.  During one of our conversations, I asked President Bush what he knows now that he wishes he had known when he was my age, when he was 21.  Though it was a somewhat-stilted question, President Bush ignored my mock sophistication and offered simple, but not simplistic, answers: “Drinking too much is stupid … religion is important … you’re gonna make mistakes, you just can’t get stuck in them … you have no idea of what your life will be like, so be open-minded.”  Simple advice, simple words – no pretense, no lofty language, no waxing eloquent.  In this same simple fashion, our conversation flowed with ease from his best advice for a 21-year-old to his favorite books, style of mountain bike, and off-road trails to his daily schedule and interactions with the Secret Service agents.  No stilted language or topics – just simple, down-to-earth conversation.

He was genuine.  Though a modern politician, President Bush showed none of the gloss that characterizes many current politicians.  Rather than presenting a slick, smooth image with polished and catchy quips, he seemed to act like himself, not giving a darn whether others would be impressed.

This authenticity was most noticeable in the way he interacted with his guests.  When I asked him the question mentioned above, he did not immediately unleash a flow of hollow, pro-forma sound bites.  Instead, he paused for a moment, looked down and then out into space, and began to think aloud about whether he really had learned anything worth sharing in his time as president.  And once he did respond, the advice was far from the safe, generic statements of the typical, image-conscious politician.  Instead, it seemed entirely his own – the genuine product of his own personal experience and reflection.  Devoid of gloss, these unpolished words seemed to be the actual  thoughts of the man in front of me, not some catchy phrase or slogan developed by a campaign manager.

Humble, simple, genuine – these overlapping qualities capture much of the personality and character of the man who led our nation for eight years, the man with whom I chatted over a glass of wine while he unabashedly drank a Diet Pepsi.  And though many may disagree with the policies and actions of President Bush’s administration, his personality and character stand as an example for all public servants.  Perhaps more politicians would do well to take a page from President Bush’s book and learn from his trio of defining qualities.

 

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Teresa Lively
Contributing Writer

“You girls sure look spiffy in your red polos,” observed President Barack Obama, greeting 98 young women gathered from all over the United States in the East Room of the White House. These young women, two from every state (excluding Hawaii), were representing their respective states at Girls Nation. I had the privilege of representing the state of New Jersey as a senator, a position I was elected to at New Jersey Girls State in June 2010. Having spent a week touring our nation’s capital with this group of young women, our visit to the White House was the culmination of the remarkable experience.

After going through security, we were led up the stairs to the Cross Hall and given permission to explore freely the rooms accessible from it. The Cross Hall itself is very impressive, containing original portraits of every president from George Washington to Barack Obama.

Walking into the East Room, President Obama immediately gave us a huge grin and put us at ease by expressing his delight in meeting us, especially since his wife, Michelle Obama, had also attended Girls Nation in high school and considered it to be a life-changing experience. Obama inquired as to where each of us was from, voicing special interest in the girls from Illinois.  He then welcomed us to ask any questions of either a political or more personal nature. Immediately 98 hands shot into the air.

Some girls asked questions about the healthcare bill or the current economic situation, while others inquired about the action to be taken in the cleanup process following the BP oil spill. The most interesting question, however, came when a girl asked him, “What is the hardest thing about being president?”  President Obama paused for a moment to think and then told us that it had been a difficult two years on his family life. He often misses dinner because of meetings and usually only sees his daughters, Malia and Natasha (Sasha), for about one hour each day. For that hour he goes up to the family residence and helps the girls with their homework. The president said it is very hard not always being able to be there for his daughters.

After a few more questions, President Obama took photos with us and again expressed his great pleasure in meeting us and voiced his hope that one day, perhaps one of us women would hold the office of the president of the United States. He then withdrew in order to attend his daughter’s annual ballet recital later that afternoon.

My day with President Obama left a lasting impression upon me. The way in which he spoke so genuinely about his family made me realize that though we may not share similar political ideologies, he, as a human being, deserved my respect. This moment of realization led me to recall a situation near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, when on a visit to Baghdad, an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at him in an act of ultimate insolence. The positive response to this act that I noticed in my generally liberal state was very off-putting.  The president is the face of America and an insult to him is an insult to the United States as a whole. May we, as conservatives, never stoop so low as to let our political views prevent us from treating the office of the presidency with the utmost respect. Meeting President Obama was truly life changing, for it taught me to evaluate people not by their political beliefs but by the character they possess. As a person I found President Obama to be very charming and gracious, and, for his impeccable character, he will always have my respect.

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