Just today, I finished reading the poorly titled, but expertly written A Piece of My Heart (unlike the title might suggest to an unsuspecting reader, it’s as far from a romance as you can get) by the Pulitzer-winning author Richard Ford and was reminded of a piece that he wrote for The Guardian last year right around the time that President Obama came into office. You can read it in its original place right here, or just check it out below. I still think it rings as true as very a little over a year later.

So, we’re left here at the bitter, congested end of the long Bush calamity, wondering not so much what we did wrong and who should be blamed and punished (what didn’t we do wrong? and we all get the blame and the punishment), but what we should do better now. “We gulp down evil, choke at good,” our poet Wallace Stevens wrote. And lord, isn’t that just the truth – though the difference between these two normally opposing forces can begin to seem merely semantical.

Some things, though, come to mind that we should do better. Here are three that pertain to President George Bush. We must not elect a stubborn man again. Stubbornness is the eighth deadly sin (or it ought to be), since it so easily disguises itself as firm, even admirable, resolve come nose-to-nose with queasy relativism. Almost all important and difficult problems have a what you might call a “relativist” side to them – which is why they’re difficult. Stubbornness, however, usually just indicates a lack of curiosity. And, worse, of course: stubbornness can’t be talked out of itself by better reason. It’s too stubborn.

Second, many Americans love to fantasise that it’s smart to elect a rich guy, since (the thinking goes) a rich guy won’t need to steal from us. But that’s just wrong. He just steals different things. Ronald Reagan, that forgetful old thespian, wanted to convince us to emulate the rich. He thought – and we agreed – that what the rich owned would spill over and make its way down to us. But it didn’t. Envying and furiously emulating the rich is what turned “Madoff” from a noun into a verb.

It starts to be tempting to believe that it’s unwise to elect anyone who’s never made a payroll, or collected a paycheck, or been an employee to somebody, or a real subordinate somewhere along the way; and that a vital part is lacking in people who’ve never done that. War, for instance, doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to them. But that would exclude Franklin Roosevelt – who was rich and did a world of good. And it would exclude plenty of other decent people. So, that can’t be all right. It’s just that being rich disguises a multitude of sins which richness doesn’t really fix or even address. As we’ve recently been made to notice, rich by itself doesn’t really mean anything good. It doesn’t even mean rich. So, let’s put rich out of the equation.

Third – and last – we have to quit electing these guys (and gals) who say they hate government, but then can’t wait to get into the government so they can “fix” it. Americans historically haven’t liked government – unless they need it to redress some personal wrong, in which case they like it, at least for a while. Even the founding fathers, who invented government over here, considered it to be a kind of worry.

Bush was elected on the slogan of less government and more freedom – but then he changed his mind about both (except where business regulations were concerned) and wrecked everything but claimed he didn’t. You could say either that we’re sadly inured to double talk in America, or that we just don’t care what the government does until it’s too late. What we have to understand, though, is that government (good government) has a significant, permanent part to play in all of our lives, and we have to take an interest in it, not hate it. And we have to pay attention not to elect people who say things that simply don’t make sense.

Well said, Mr. Ford.

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