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Republicans needn’t trouble themselves to nominate a presidential candidate in 2012. No matter what, Pres. Barack Obama will be running against George W. Bush.
Bush will be Obama’s eternal foil. At this rate, when Obama writes his post-presidential memoir, it will be titled: An Audacious Presidency, or How I Saved America from That Bastard Bush. His presidential library will have a special fright-house wing devoted to Bush’s misrule. He will mutter in his senescence about 43, like the Ancient Mariner about his albatross.
Obama clearly wants Bush to be the Hoover to his FDR. Since his predecessor left office with 34 percent job approval, Obama understandably feels moved to scorn and berate him. But Obama’s perpetual campaign against Bush is graceless, whiny, and tin-eared. Must the leader of the free world — if Obama still accepts that quaint formulation — always reach for the convenient excuse?
No doubt, Obama inherited formidable challenges, but it’s usually thus. The presidency is a miserable job. During our first inaugural marking a presidential transition, John Adams thought he could almost hear George Washington thinking: “I am fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be happiest.”
Obama complains of having to clean up what he charmingly calls “somebody else’s mess.” Obama took office during a stomach-churning financial crisis, and he now brags, “We’ve rescued our economy from catastrophe.” Who’s “we”? When then‑Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke confronted Bush with the magnitude of the crisis last fall, he told them to do anything necessary to fight it.
Bush’s support of the ideologically uncongenial TARP legislation, together with Bernanke’s expansive actions at the Fed, rescued the system. But Obama takes the credit, while pretending Bush heedlessly let the economy burn — a tack that is in equal measures petty and dishonest.
Obama also blames Bush for the deficit, now at $1.4 trillion. Whatever his own profligacy, Bush didn’t compel Obama to spend money nearly as fast as it could be printed, or to roughly double the projected debt over the next decade. Obama’s motto apparently is, “Stop Bush — before he makes me spend again!”
In international forums, Obama acts as if Bush were the former president of another country, or a disgraced former leader ousted in a coup. No calumny is too much to heap on him, and no defense is ever offered. Obama might at least avoid implicitly accusing his predecessor of war crimes. He might at least credit his predecessor’s, and his country’s, good intentions in toppling Saddam Hussein and promoting democracy in the Middle East. No, he’s incapable of it.
Obama should be grateful that Bush ordered the surge in Iraq against Obama’s opposition. If he hadn’t, Obama likely would have — on top of everything else — inherited a strategically central Middle Eastern country in full-scale civil war. Does Obama express any appreciation, or any humility about his own mistaken call? Of course not.
But his aides blame Bush for the state of the Afghan War, which White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel says was adrift “for eight years.” If the war was under-resourced, the complaining about Bush has the whiff of pre-emptive excuse-making should Obama pull up short in his “necessary war.” We would send Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan only if Bush hadn’t already lost the war.
When Obama first burst on the scene, he seemed to respect the other side. That refreshing Obama is long gone. Now, he impugns his immediate predecessor with classless regularity, and attributes the worst of motives — pure partisanship and unrestrained greed — to those who oppose him. Their assigned role is to get the hell out of his way.
The acid test of the White House inevitably exposes a president’s character flaws: Nixon’s corrosive paranoia, Clinton’s self-destructive indiscipline, Bush’s stubborn defensiveness. Obama in the crucible is exhibiting an oddly self-pitying arrogance. It’s unbecoming in anyone, let alone the most powerful man on the planet.