Obama’s gift — it just keeps giving to Bush.
Barack Obama has oddly done a great service to George W. Bush. Almost every issue about which the media and our elite culture once faulted Bush for has been even more applicable to Obama himself.
Bush and the Press? Obama has given far fewer press conferences; he is accessible, if the media agrees to fluff interviews and photo-ops. For Scott McClellan, substitute Robert Gibbs (Obama has of yet no pro like Tony Snow). Authentic imprecision in a president is perhaps preferable to teleprompted glibness.
Karl Rove hardballers? Trumped again by Chicagoans like Axelrod, Emanuel, and Jarret. I don’t think Mark Foley ever accused a shouting Karl Rove of approaching him naked in the congressional showers.
Tired expressions? Try “let me be perfectly clear” and “make no mistake about it” ad nauseam.
Bush crassness? For “Yo Blair” and a back rub for Angie Merkel, imagine cheap gifts for the British, bows to the Saudis, and lies about Islamic primacy in science and discovery.
We could go on.
Bush the rude boor abroad? A poll of Europe’s leaders (privately, of course) would perhaps find German, British, Italian, and French prime ministers and presidents more favorable to the folksy dependable Bush than the aloof diffident Obama.
NATO friends in Afghanistan? The transnational Obama is no more successful in keeping Europeans at the front than was the supposedly unilateral Bush. Indeed, the Dutch are leaving and the French not sending any new help.
American popularity abroad? Polls show that Americans, at least, feel our national prestige has declined, not grown since 2009. Most worry more that allies like Merkel, Sarkozy and the Brits now doubt America’s resolve than whether we are liked by the crowds in Bali or Zimbabwe.
Is Obama on some sort of mission to rehabilitate George Bush? Each time he starts in with “reset” and “Bush did it” and “we inherited this mess,” he is achieving the opposite effect of what was intended — sympathy for the prior president.
Obama as Bush 2.0
But all this is just fluff and PR: the real Obama gift to Bush has been on foreign policy and the economy.
By December 2008, a multiyear narrative had been long established among global elites that George Bush had essentially shredded the U.S. Constitution. By enacting a series of post-9/11 anti-terrorism measures such as the Patriot Act, renditions, tribunals, Predator-targeted assassinations, and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as well as conducting two unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush was supposed nearly on par with the terrorists themselves.
State legislator, Senator, and then presidential candidate Obama perhaps best both played on, and helped to advance, this narrative of Bush the anti-civil libertarian, by serial criticism of almost all of the Bush protocols. Indeed, Obama was on record on everything from demanding combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008 to labeling air attacks in Afghanistan as a sort of airborne terrorism.
For every Bush protocol, one can adduce a demagogic Obama slur, as he derided tribunals, Iraq, renditions, and Guantanamo. Such posturing was relatively easy — given that an unexpectedly safe America years later had the luxury to second guess the earlier protocols that had kept it secure. Partisan cheap rhetoric, of course, was far easier than responsible governance.
But then a funny thing happened. A now President Obama, responsible for the safety of 300 million Americans, adopted almost all of the Bush measures, and in some cases even augmented them (such as quadrupling the number of targeted assassinations.)