A few kind words about the President and “compassionate conservatism” on his birthday.

Happy 60th, Mr. President.

A few months ago, explaining my support for George W. Bush in 2000, I wrote:

"I reluctantly settled on George Bush because he looked like he could win and I liked his family. He also struck me as an unpolished but authentic and sincere man.... On the whole, he has not disappointed me."

I am not unmoved today by my conservative brethren who castigate the President for his big-government conservatism, his Wilsonian idealism, his evangelicalism and his bent toward “tolerance” in regard to social issues.

For me, the most damning of those accusations is the first, which plays to my fear of out-sized budget deficits and an ever-increasing federal leviathan. I am nothing if not a Reagan conservative. Reagan would shudder at “No Child Left Behind” and the prescription drug program.

Notwithstanding, I admire the President. I appreciate his toughness following 9/11. For good or ill, I cannot imagine another American president who would have followed the course he charted in respect to the “War on Terror.”

I am grateful for his bold decision to attack terrorism as a concerted threat to national security rather than a series of individual criminal acts. I respect his courage in formulating a comprehensive program to remake the Middle East as a kinder, gentler place less lethal to American interests and lives.

The Iraq initiative was visionary and remarkably bold in a moment in which a lesser person might have been paralyzed by ambiguity and a plethora of unsatisfactory options. Bush, the Harvard MBA, showed himself a “confident and assertive decision maker.” He was/is the “decider,” which is exactly what the Founders envisioned when they crafted the Chief Executive.

All that aside, and on a much more personal note, my heart goes out to George W. Bush. I understand his “compassionate conservatism” in a way that defies reason or logic. That is, I share the President’s susceptibility to a lump in the throat.

Many of his critics see him as insincere (among other things), but I have no doubt that George Bush’s most powerful emotion is empathy. The President often gets into trouble with conservatives when he identifies too emotionally with people. “No Child Left Behind” was the product of his earnest belief that every child is important and deserves better. The “soft bigotry of low standards” was for him incredibly real.

One presidential psycho-analyst, published on the subject, avers that George Bush grew up fearing that he was the child being left behind. Maybe, this is the key to Bush the man.

For all of us who look at the world and see it as a scary, cruel place and feel damn lucky to have a good job and a loving, wonderful family, the “lump” comes rather easily. If you spent a great deal of your life worrying about screwing things up (I warned you this would be personal), and then one day the clouds open and you realize that you have been greatly blessed beyond anything you deserved, the “lump” is always in there, lurking just below the surface.

You can scoff at George Bush. Ann Richards famously said of his father: “George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” You can easily apply that kind of mean-spirited analysis to Bush the son. But it misses the point. In America, it is rather easy to get “picked-off” third base, and that is exactly what almost happened to George W. But he survived. For all the “swagger” and confidence, there is also the humility that comes from barely dodging a perilous bullet.

George Bush has the ability to look into the eyes of an immigrant family attempting to gain access to an American life and be moved. Or look at two young people on their wedding day and feel misty, knowing the joy of finding a soul mate but also the daunting task that awaits them. There is a depth of understanding in the President that comes only from a certain amount of personal pain and fear and inner struggle.

In many ways, Bush is the most human of the modern presidents. And on this week of his sixtieth birthday, I offer a very personal thanks for his compassion and his attention to duty.

In closing, please consider my absolute favorite Bush line, which is also an excellent set of principles for Christian leadership (from his 2000 Acceptance Speech in Philadelphia):

I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it.

I believe in a God who calls us, not to judge our neighbors, but to love them.

I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it.

I believe true leadership is a process of addition, not an act of division. I will not attack a part of this country, because I want to lead the whole of it.