I watched the Bush interview last night on NBC. While I might quibble with this or that, the obvious take-away, I think, is that he helped himself enormously. The fact that he won’t criticize Obama, and hasn’t for two years, actually serves as the most devastating criticism of Obama he could offer. Bush, Obama’s punching bag, is turning the other cheek and taking the higher road.
Of course, this country has always been forgiving of ex-presidents, of both parties. Nostalgia, the weight of current controversies, the desire to seem magnanimous at no cost: these are just a few of the reasons we tend to elevate ex-presidents pretty quickly. Personally, while I still have serious disagreements with the Bush administration, I think Bush is entirely deserving of personal rehabilitation. Whatever his faults, he was far from the evil ogre or dangerous dunce his detractors made him into.
What will be fascinating is to see whether increasing warm feelings for Bush (and growing nostalgia for a once-anemic Bush economy that may seem rosy compared to the Obama economy) creates real problems for the current president.
Obama has been at his shabbiest in his constant running down of his predecessor and his constant blame shifting. Some of Obama’s claims have some merit, I should concede. But they come across as unpresidential and even whiny. It worked on the campaign trail. But as Obama has been learning all-too-slowly, the presidency is not a campaign and what works on the hustings falls flat in the Oval Office. So it will be interesting to see if Obama can resist Bush-bashing even as Bush’s popularity rises. I suspect he won’t be able to stop, thanks to his vanity and his inability to drop rhetorical crutches. And while he certainly needs an enemy, picking on a guy who refuses to fight back out of respect for the presidency, will not help Obama’s image with anyone, save his ever-shrinking base.