Politics & Policy

Rethinking George Bush?

The American people are warming to Bush and cooling to his successor.

Former president George W. Bush left office with the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon. So, for nearly two years, Pres. Barack Obama won easy applause by prefacing almost every speech on his economic policies with a “Bush did it” put-down.

But suddenly Bush seems okay. Last week, the president did the unthinkable: He praised Bush for his past efforts to reach out to Muslims. Vice President Joe Biden went further and blurted out, “Mr. Bush deserves a lot of credit.” Biden topped that off with, “Mr. President, thank you.”

#ad#Even liberal pundits have now called on Bush to help Obama defuse rising tensions over the so-called Ground Zero mosque and Arizona’s illegal-immigration law.

What’s going on?

For one thing, recent polls show an astounding rebound in the former president’s favorability — to the extent that in the bellwether state of Ohio, voters would rather still have Bush as president than have Obama by a 50–42 margin. Nationwide, Obama’s approval ratings continue to sink to near 40 percent — a nadir that it took years for Bush to reach. It has become better politics to praise Bush than to bury him.

Iraq seems to be on the road to success, with a growing economy and a stabilizing government. Don’t take my word on that; ask Vice President Biden. He recently claimed that the way Iraq is going, it could become one of the Obama administration’s “greatest achievements.” Obama himself seconded that when the former war critic called the American effort in Iraq “a remarkable chapter” in the history of the two countries.

Then there are the growing comparisons with Bush’s supposed past transgressions. Compared with Obama’s, they’re starting to look like traffic tickets. Take the economy and the War on Terror. Americans were angry about the Bush-era deficits. But they look small now, after Obama trumped them in less than two years.

For six years of the Bush administration, Americans enjoyed a strong economy. So far, there hasn’t been a similar month under Obama. Bush had a one-time Wall Street meltdown, but Obama’s permanent big-government medicine for it seems far worse than the original disease.

#page#If Hurricane Katrina showed government ineptness, so did the recent BP oil spill. Maybe such problems in the Gulf were neither Bush’s nor Obama’s fault alone, but are better attributed to the inept federal bureaucracy itself — or to freak weather and human laxity.

On the War on Terror, Obama has dropped all the old campaign venom. Bush’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility, renditions, tribunals, intercepts, wiretaps, predator-drone attacks, and policies in Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer dubbed a shredding of the Constitution. All are now seen as national-security tools that must be kept, if not expanded, under Obama.

#ad#In comparison with Obama and his gaffes, Bush no longer seems the singular clod whom his opponents endlessly ridiculed. The supposedly mellifluent Obama relies on the teleprompter as if it were his umbilical cord. His occasional word-mangling (he pronounced “corpsman” as “corpse-man”) and weird outbursts (he recently complained that opponents “talk about me like a dog”) remind us that the pressures of the presidency can make a leader sometimes seem silly.

Bush now seems cool because he has played it cool. The more Obama and Biden have trashed him, the more silent and thus magnanimous he appears. Bush’s post-presidency is not like that of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton — both of whom criticized their successors and hit the campaign trail — but similar to that of his father, who worked with, rather than harped about, Bill Clinton. That graciousness not only has helped George W. Bush in the polls but seems finally to have mellowed out Obama as well.

Criticism of Bush got out of hand in the last few years of his term. Writing novels or making documentaries about killing the president, or libeling him as a Nazi, is not the sort of politics that we want continued during the Obama years. So it makes sense before the general election to halt the endless blame-gaming, before what goes around comes around.

The frenzy of Bush hatred and Obama worship that crested in the summer of 2008 is over. We now better remember the Bush of Ground Zero who had a megaphone in his hand and his arm around a fireman than the Texan who pronounced “nuclear” as “nucular.” Meanwhile, hope-and-change now seems to offer little hope and less change.

America woke up from its 2008 trance and is concluding that Bush was never as bad, and Obama never as good, as advertised.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, andthe author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.©2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

Most Popular

Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More
Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More

Canceled, &c.

There was a headline last week: “Boeing Communications Chief Resigns Over Decades-Old Article on Women in Combat.” Find the story here. It explains that “Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago ... Read More

Canceled, &c.

There was a headline last week: “Boeing Communications Chief Resigns Over Decades-Old Article on Women in Combat.” Find the story here. It explains that “Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago ... Read More