The other pillar in Mr. Obama’s apparent reelection strategy, bashing Bush, similarly does not survive closer scrutiny. In 2008, President Bush was a deeply -- if unfairly -- disliked president. With his approval ratings mired in the low thirties, Bush was shunned even by his own party’s nominating convention. Mr. Obama’s election narrative was as much a referendum on Mr. Bush as a choice between himself and Sen. McCain.
Much has changed. The former president has enjoyed a surge in his approval ratings, as most former presidents do. In Mr. Bush’s case, this has been aided both by his respectful silence on matters of national policy and his openness in interviews conducted during the launch of his highly successful memoir. A recent Gallup poll showed the former president with an approval rating of 47% at the end of last year. While that result places Bush ahead of only Richard Nixon among the former presidents the poll tested, it is a far cry from the 36% approval he held at the end of his presidency and equals Mr. Obama’s approval rating in the most recent Gallup survey.
Worse for Mr. Obama, the voting public’s perception of him when compared to Mr. Bush is not flattering. Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen recently asked likely voters whether Obama had been a better president than Bush. The results were surprising. Just 43% said Mr. Obama had been a better president while 48% favored Mr. Bush. A majority of 56% said that Mr. Obama did not deserve a second term. Mr. Bush’s increasing popularity coupled with Schoen’s results show that the voting public is much less inclined to pay attention to attacks against Mr. Bush this time around. Running another referendum on Bush could end up backfiring on President Obama.
For a man ostensibly focused on winning the future, President Obama spends a disproportionate amount of his time fighting the battles of the past. But the American public is not looking back at what prior presidents did; they are looking toward the current president for leadership and solutions on the big challenges facing the country. As a policy address, President Obama’s budget speech failed miserably to provide either. The numbers show that as a campaign speech, it wasn’t much better.