Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
The easy answers for why Bush’s love fest with the president is that he’s a much maligned, much reviled former president who finds it prudent to take the statesmanlike high ground, and shower praise on his successor, lest he run the grave risk of putting his failed, flawed, bumbling and blundering policies back on the table as fair game for attack. Another answer is that he’s simply following presidential protocol, and that is speak no ill of your successor. Or, that he’s trying to peddle a book, and since it’s not a sex and smut gossipy, tabloid tell all, he and the book must come off looking and sounding politically revealing, intriguing, and informative, to get the cash registers jingling on book sales. These undoubtedly are sensible reasons for Bush’s gratuitous deference to Obama. But there are other reasons that are even more compelling.
Obama has in part through political necessity, pragmatism, and political belief followed in some of Bush’s footsteps. The two most prominent things that Bush praised him for are the handling of the Afghan war and the economic crisis. Obama and Bush have been in lockstep agreement that the war should be waged, and waged to win, and that the US would spend whatever it takes, and make whatever military sacrifices that have to be made to insure that. At every stage of the presidential campaign, Obama’s speeches, and his action to escalate the war once in the White House, confirmed that he meant business on this. It was virtually the same tough, unrelenting position that Bush struck on Iraq. If you’re George W. Bush you can’t help but like this and cheer lead Obama for it. If you’re Bush you also have to like Obama’s willingness to leave virtually untouched the deals worked out to rescue the banks, the Wall Street houses, and keep in place as your top economic advisors and micro managers those with close ties to the banking and corporate leaders, and who will play it close to the vest on tax, spending, and budget decisions.
Then there’s the way things are done in the White House. Obama like Bush did what every other new president does during his first two years in office. He used the early public goodwill to make politically favorable appointments, ink executive orders and push through Congress programs that likely would draw fire later on, while exerting a tight grip on executive power, and casting an eye on building a favorable historic legacy. In Bush’s first address to Congress, he cast himself as the education president, talked about health care reform, and made a vague promise to tackle paying off the national debt. Obama has repeatedly talked about these issues, up to and including carbon copying and tweaking one of Bush’s few signature achievements, the No Child Left Behind initiative.
Obama like Bush took big campaign hits for being a foreign policy novice and has moved just as quickly to meet and talk with foreign leaders, embark on a busy round of state visits, and try to repair the monumental damage that Bush did in poisoning relations with America’s allies. But at the same time, Bush staunchly backed a national missile defense system in Europe. So did Obama initially. He called a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland the most cost-effective and proven defense system. He tied the decision to go ahead with it directly to Iran's nuclear threat and international security concerns. Obama backed away from it on the recommendation from the Pentagon, but a truncated version of the system is not entirely off the military and diplomatic table.
There’s much to like and admire from Bush’s view about Obama, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to explain his heap of praise on him. The final clue to why he does came following a meeting with Obama immediately after the election. He applauded him for shoring up GM and the other automakers. Bush quipped to his economic team, “I won’t dump this mess on them.” Bush did but he didn’t just dump it on Obama dumped the mess on the nation too. For that he can’t afford to utter a word of criticism about the effort he’s made to clean up that mess he made.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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