As we prepare to welcome the leader of the world’s most powerful republic, it behooves us to make sure that we grapple with facts, not just biased opinions. It is unfortunate that so much of the information about the US is derived by our elites from the eastern seaboard, Left-leaning media who are on the opposite side of the American political spectrum from George W. Bush and who therefore have a vested interest in opposing and disparaging him.
The images of Bush they have succeeded in planting internationally are that Bush is dim-witted, a simple-minded religious fanatic, a supporter of a rapacious plutocracy. None of these are based on facts. But like all propaganda, there is a feeling that repeated often enough, loudly enough, it’ll become the accepted truth.
Let us take a look at the facts. The Bush family is as elitist as they get in America. Bush’s grandfather was a Republican senator from Connecticut. His son, George Bush Sr, took the decision literally to move the family “west”. This may seem like an accident. But what an intelligent and fortuitous accident it was. They moved to the southwest just as this part of the US was gaining demographically. The likelihood of a president of the US bobbing up from Connecticut, with its declining population, is pretty low. Texas on the other hand has been for the last 35 years on the rise economically and politically. The Bush family moved to Texas just as the state was moving from over a century of Democratic domination to becoming a bastion of the Republicans. Incidentally, a branch of the Bush family represented by the president’s younger brother has moved to Florida, another state with burgeoning demography and a flourishing economy. The family’s uncanny ability to anticipate the future and “move” to where the future will happen needs no better proof.
President Bush attended Yale and Harvard Business School. Critics will of course make snide remarks that this was on account of family connections. While that may help to some extent, to be dismissive of his attendance of top-class academic establishments would arguably be one more silly under-estimation of the man. Despite representing what is viewed by many as a political party committed to the white Protestant cause, Bush has reached out to the Hispanic community with intelligence and sensitivity. If nothing else, this represents another wise anticipation of demographic inflexion. The Republican Party would condemn itself to irrelevance if it fails to co-opt the growing Hispanic population. At considerable risk to his popularity with xenophobes within his own party, Bush has proposed a Guest Worker programme which is immigrant-friendly and responds to the concerns of the Hispanic voter. His ability to re-fashion himself as a “non-elitist” or to convert a marginal first term victory into a decisive one in the second round are not acts of the politically inept. Those who think of him that way seriously “mis-underestimate” him!
Bush has shown a broad-mindedness and inclusiveness in his appointm-ents that completely demolishes the argument that he is merely a mouthpiece for evangelical Christians. He may be a sincere, pious, believer in his faith, but he’s consistently stood for the separation of church and state and for the inclusiveness of all groups. This may be for principled reasons or because he his politically smart. The net effect has been positive. His executive and judicial appointments embrace Catholics (also new entrant into the stable of Republican supporters), Jews and African-Americans. Note that both his secretaries of state (the senior-most cabinet members) have been African-American. His surgical approach to Senator Trent Lott when he resurrected long-forgotten racial antagonisms is a classic example of heightened sensitivity.
In foreign policy, Bush has the reputation deservedly or otherwise of cold-shouldering Europe (or is it just Old Europe?) and reaching out to China and India. Again, one sees the same knack of grasping the future rather than swimming in the glue of the past. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and he have created an Indo-US CEO forum. Contrast this with Chirac’s clumsy response to the Mittal-Arcelor deal. China is the economic powerhouse of the future and India is headed the same way. Bush’s visit to China highlighted this despite the dozens of reservations and differences on Taiwan and other irritants. He was warmly received by the Chinese elite, an important lesson for his Indian counterparts.
As a betting man, the very fact that Bush is positive about India means that it is quite in order to go long on the Indian stockmarket. His ability to spot the trend has a tested track record. It is equally important to pay attention to the fact that almost instinctively he is on our side on a variety of issues, be it the approach to Islamist terrorism or the approach to nuclear power as a viable, even desirable energy source for the world. He has maintained a clear distance from ecology fundamentalists who would deny India nuclear fuel and at the same time hector us not to burn high-sulphur coal. How exactly are we supposed to provide for an energy-starved population who do not aspire to remain permanently poor?
The one argument I find most entertaining is that he is doing all this for the good of the US. Of course he is. That is what makes his approach so credible and self-sustaining. He has been elected by Americans to further their interests and that’s what he is doing. If he can find that doing business with India makes sense within that agenda, it seems to me that we have all the elements of a relationship not based on frothy rhetoric but on sound convergence of interests. It is in this spirit of intelligent practicality, conscious of our vital interests that we should “do business” with this pragmatic Texan.
Jaithirth Rao is chairman and CEO, Mphasis