by Victor Davis Hanson
Why We Suddenly Miss Bush
Various polls report that George W. Bush in some states is now better liked than President Obama. Even some liberal pundits call for Bush, the now long-missed moderate, to draw on his recognized tolerance and weigh in on the Ground Zero mosque or the Arizona anti-immigration legislation. Apparently, the erstwhile divider is now the healer that the healer Obama is not.
As President Obama’s polls dip, as Congress is widely disdained, and as the economy slumps, suddenly George Bush is missed. Why so? Let me list ten likely reasons.
1) The Obama record. We naturally compare Bush to his chief critic and successor Barack Obama — and find the latter increasingly wanting as time goes by. Obama turned Bush’s misdemeanor deficits into felonious trillion-dollar annual shortfalls. He will pile up more debt than any other prior president.
Indeed, if reelected, Obama will borrow more than all previous administrations combined. Bush was tarred in 2004 for a “jobless recovery” when unemployment hovered near 6%. It is now almost 10% and Obama still harps about “jobs saved.” Scott McClellan may have been singularly inept; we are not so sure after Robert Gibbs. For every Brownie there is a worse Van Jones or Anita Dunn. For Katrina we have BP. Bush’s NASA did space; Obama’s seems to prefer Muslim outreach. Bush’s prescription drug benefit was an unfunded liability; ObamaCare is a trillion-dollar financial black-hole. I could go on, but Obama’s lackluster record is improving Bush’s legacy every day.
2) Obama as Bush. Senator and then candidate Obama demagogued Bush on a variety of issues, which, as president, he simply flipped and endorsed. Remember Bush’s gulag at Guantanamo? Or how about the terror-producing Predators? Or the need for an immediate pull-out from Iraq? Or those terrible renditions and tribunals?
In case after case of national security, Obama dropped the cheap rhetorical one-upmanship, and, when invested with the responsibility of governance, simply adopted, or even trumped, the Bush protocols. General Petraeus, whose testimony Hillary once suggested required “a suspension of disbelief” and whom Obama cut off and did not allow to speak during his infamous 2007 Senate hearing, suddenly is to be Obama’s savior general.
Candidate Obama claimed the surge failed and all combat troops should be out of Bush’s Iraq war by March 2008. President Obama now calls Iraq a “remarkable chapter” as his vice president claims it as one of the administration’s “greatest achievements.” In short, almost daily, Obama is following the Bush anti-terrorism policies — the irony made worse by petulance and ingratitude in not acknowledging his debt.
3) Bush Did It. It is a uniquely American trait to shun whining and petulance. Rugged individualism and can-do optimism used to be ingrained in our national character, and even in our 11th hour have not wholly disappeared. So the public is tiring of Obama’s Pavlovian blaming of Bush. After 20 months, it is time for the president to get a life and quit the “heads you lose/tails I win” attitude about presidential responsibility. If he now takes credit for calm in Iraq without crediting the surge, then Obama can surely take blame for the anemic recovery — brought on by his own bullying of business that has frightened free enterprise into stasis. Note that Bush, unlike Clinton, has not engaged in emeritus tit-for-tat recrimination, and has kept largely quiet in dignified repose. Obama serially goes after Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck by name; Bush let the slander of a Michael Moore or Keith Olbermann go unanswered.
4) Who is the real yuppie? The media tried to paint Bush as the privileged yuppie, masquerading as the Texas rancher, idly chain-sawing on his spread. But at least Bush went to the Texas outback for vacation and got his hands dirty. Obama’s problem is that Axelrod and Emanuel could not stage a chain-sawing task for Obama if they tried — severe injury would surely follow. The bowling moment in the campaign was as disastrous as the later Obama girlish first pitch. From 2001-3, presidential golf was proof of aristocratic disdain and laziness. Suddenly from 2009-2010 — given that Obama has hit the greens more in 20 months than Bush did in eight years — the Ministry of Truth redefined the game as necessary egalitarian relaxation. Given the choice, the public would probably prefer a little overdone Texas “smoke ‘em out” braggadocio to worries over the price of arugula.
5) Michelle is no Laura. Remember the narrative: conservative women are elitists who decorate, buy nice clothes, and play Barbie; liberal first ladies are doers who are independent feminists that can’t be bothered by inanities like fashion and play. But Michelle this summer enjoyed a movable feast from Marbella to Martha’s Vineyard, in designer clothes and shades. Laura Bush used to vacation at the national parks. Laura Bush often disagreed with her husband and sometimes offered a liberal “Oh, come on, George” to her husband’s occasional flight-suit strutting. Michelle, in contrast, is the second half of the partisan Obama tag-team, perennially whining that “they raised the bar.” After “downright mean country” and “never before been proud,” we miss Laura Bush’s common sense and nonpartisanship. Ga-ga media talk of Michelle’s biceps, not the earthy decency reminiscent of a Laura Bush.
6) UN first; US second. If Bush was a supposed “cowboy,” there at least was never doubt that his first and foremost interest was the US, not the “international community.” One Obama bow was okay; one apology about genocide tolerable; one smug cast-off line that we are not exceptional understandable; one mea culpa sent to the corrupt UN human rights crowd I suppose forgivable. But add them up and we sense that our president is embarrassed about America’s history and culture — but not quite embarrassed enough not to enjoy its material bounty to the fullest.
7) Who will criticize the critics? American elites crucified Bush. Vein-bulging Al Gore called him a liar. John Edwards and John Kerry tag-teamed him in vicious attacks. Alfred A. Knopf published a novel imagining his assassination. The Toronto Film Festival gave first prize to Death of a President, a 2006 docudrama about killing President Bush. I could go on again, but you remember the times, in which everyone from John Glenn to Garrison Keillor played the Bush Nazi/brownshirt card.
And now? John Edwards imploded in scandal. John Kerry was exposed as a tax-dodging elitist hypocrite. Al Gore, if not a sex poodle, at least is a green-con-artist of the billionaire sort, who both hyped a world-ending crisis and then profited from his rhetorical overkill by selling supposed green snake oil in the fashion of medieval penances. CBS, the New York Times, and Newsweek now totter near financial insolvency, after showing both poor judgment and questionable ethics: from the Times’ offering a discount for the MoveOn.org “General Betray Us” ad to a Newsweek senior editor declaring Obama a “god.” Suddenly bad things have happened to most of Bush’s loudest critics. (Note I’ll pass on the post-Bush Letterman or the post-Bush Rangel).
8. Bush’s disasters proved not quite disasters. Take the two most famous: Iraq and Katrina. Iraq is calm and can make it as a consensual state. Kurdistan is booming, not on a genocidal watch list. We killed thousands of al-Qaeda terrorists in Anbar province. That helped to keep us safe from another 9/11-like attack. Libya gave up its WMD. Dr. Khan shut down his nuclear franchising. American troops left Saudi Arabia. Syria got out of Lebanon. Iraq neither attacks four of its neighbors, nor does the government there give shelter to the likes of Abu Nidal and the architect of the first World Trade bombing attempt. Understandably, Biden and Obama now see something to claim and hope we forget their own assurances that it was either lost or to be trisected.
The BP mess (oh, how Nemesis likes to strike in the same locale!) reminded us how the federal government is inept under any president, whether during a man-made or nature-induced calamity. Shutting down oil drilling in the Gulf may be the worst legacy of the spill. Much of Katrina’s mess, in retrospect, can be attributed as much to anemic local and state responses and an endemic New Orleans culture of dependency as to Brownie’s FEMA incompetence.
9) Bush was not corrupt and ran an especially ethical administration. Before Obama even started, we had the Blago mess (of which the final story is not yet in) and the Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, and Hilda Solis ethical lapses. Bush condemned Republican malfeasance and kept his distance. But suddenly the culture of corruption is not so corrupt when Chris Dodd, Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters, and others prove as compromised as Duke Cunningham and Larry Craig. The Chicago crowd makes the Crawford crowd look like pikers. Bush said not a word about Obama and BP; Obama viciously attacked Bush as incompetent during Katrina. You decide.
10) Bush was authentic. He mangled his words. A liberal industry grew up around both “nuclar” and its sometimes corrective “nucular.” He strutted and talked Nascarese-like “bring ‘em on.” Much of this was excessive, but we knew at least Bush meant it. We got worried when he extemporaneously expounded for long riffs about freedom at press conferences, as his eyes rolled and he drifted from topic to topic. He put his arm on Angela Merkel and cried out “Yo Blair.” The media told us he was a yokel; we might add: albeit an authentic one who could duck properly when under shoe attack.
But Obama? He cannot really speak off the teleprompter without pauses, repetitions, and constant self-referencing (as in “me,” “I,” “my,” etc.). He is stiff and not comfortable with himself off the court or golf course. Bush made decisions and stuck by them; Obama the professor offers a perennial “on the one hand”/”on the other hand” mish-mash and a sorta, kinda, almost answer. Americans would prefer to be in a foxhole with George Bush, who would swagger and announce as decider-in-chief at H-hour, “Okay, pard, we’re going over the top together on this one.” They wouldn’t want to be with Obama, who would stutter and give a long-drawn out exegesis why race and class had condemned us to such an unfair predicament, whose only solution is to go into a fetal position and condemn “them” who did this awful thing to us.
Who knows? At this rate America may play Brandon DeWilde to Bush’s Shane: “Bush — Come Back, Bush, Come Back!”
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson