"In the end," George W. Bush said in his speech at the opening of his presidential library today, "leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom." We don't mean to begrudge Bush his special day, but that's not just poppycock, it shows that he really has learned nothing since he left office. Unless, of course, he's happy with the conclusion of history on his presidency being, "George W. Bush: He meant well."
Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be?
Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush?
George W. Bush has had, shall we say, an uneventful ex-presidency. Bill Clinton flies all over the world to raise money for his foundation and Jimmy Carter oversees elections in developing countries, but Bush is content with a slower pace. Important events shake the world, but today The Decider decides to go for a bike ride, have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and maybe paint a picture of a dog. If there's time after, he takes a good afternoon nap.
When he was performing his Full Jeb of Sunday show interviews over the weekend, Jeb Bush got asked everywhere whether he's running for president, and each time he gave the same practiced answer (not thinking about it yet). He also got asked whether his brother's disastrous presidency, and the fact that Dubya left office with abysmal approval ratings (Gallup had him in the 20s for much of 2008) would be a drag on him. Jeb gave the answer you'd expect: history will be kind to my brother, I'm very proud of him, and so on. Of course it's true that Jeb, what with his last name and all, would have to "grapple" with his brother's legacy more than other candidates. But when we think about it in those terms, I think we overlook something important about how the Bush legacy will continue to operate on Republicans, not just Jeb but all of them.
In February 1998, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded, Lewinsky's lawyer, a man by the name of William Ginsburg, performed the then-unheard-of feat of appearing on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows in a single day. In the years since (according to Wikipedia, at least) 15 other brave Americans have completed a "Full Ginsburg," as it came to be known. This Sunday, however, the Full Ginsburg may need to be renamed the Full Jeb.
This morning, Washington solved the mystery of Jeb Bush's strange about-face on immigration reform: It was a simple case of political calculation gone wrong. In his new book, Immigration Wars: Forging a New Solution, the former Florida governor comes out against a path to citizenship, a policy he formerly endorsed.
Jeb Bush followed a time-honored tradition Monday morning, one set forth by past generations of sensible politicians contemplating a run for the Republican presidential nomination: He ditched his sane policy views to appeal to the far right. During a Today Showinterview previewing his upcoming book,Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, Bush—the esteemed former Florida governor and older brother to the country's most disastrous president—said immigration reform should not include a path for citizenship.
Just six weeks ago, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsed a path to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration reform solution, following the path established by both his brother—George W. Bush—and President Obama.
CHARLOTTE—John Kerry just gave a strong speech at the Democratic National Convention, inspiring a lot of commentators to wonder where this Kerry was when he challenged George W. Bush in 2004. As it stands, he’s become a punch line for poor presidential efforts. But, to defend the Senator from Massachusetts, Kerry actually out-performed the fundamentals in 2004. According to political scientist James Campbell, Bush was favored to win that year, based off of economic indicators and his overall approval rating:
We don't yet know how many people watched Bill Clinton's speech last night, but since on the first night of the Democratic convention ratings were a bit higher than for the Republican convention, it's fair to assume we're talking about something in the vicinity of 30 million viewers. Which is fine, but it isn't anything close to a majority of the electorate. But even if most voters didn't actually see Clinton's speech, just the fact that everyone is aware that he's out there vouching for Barack Obama can have an impact. Because the basic question of the campaign—should we keep this guy and his people in charge, or turn it over to that other guy and his people?—will be answered in a context created by people's memories of recent history.
Hey, everybody! Remember me? (photo by the White House)
Kevin Drum asks an interesting question: what ever became of George W. Bush? Not so much literally—I've always assumed that he spends his days playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops" with bored Secret Service agents—but as a presence in our national life. It's partly because, as Kevin notes, his own party wants nothing to do with him, since most of his big projects turned out to be colossal failures. If Republicans don't want to talk about him, then we can't have an ongoing argument about his legacy, since one side of that argument changes the subject every time he comes up. But as Kevin says, "It's just sort of astonishing that a guy who was president only three years ago, and who loomed so large for both liberals and conservatives, has disappeared down the memory hole so completely. In the end, for all his swagger, he was a mile wide and an inch deep. Once he left the White House, it was as if his entire presidency had just been a bad dream."
In some ways, this is more remarkable on the liberal side than on the conservative side. To say George W. Bush loomed large is an understatement. In fact, he remade the entire American left.
Premiering tonight on the channel that just got through bringing us Season Two of Game of Thrones—believe me, you'll miss its brute realism—41 couldn't be a tenderer, more wart-free portrait of George H.W. Bush if one of his grandkids had put it together for a private screening on Poppy's 88th birthday. Which was, as it happens, Tuesday, and many happy returns. But that's no excuse for HBO to air nominal documentarian Jeffrey Roth's (who is he, you ask? Beats me.) feature-length Hallmark card.