Bush’s surprising post-presidency comments

Compared to most former presidents, George W. Bush has been relatively quiet.

Clinton is addicted to the spotlight, we can’t get Carter to shut up, and at least we hear from Bush’s dad once per year when he goes skydiving.

But when it comes to commenting on his successor, Bush has taken the high road, choosing to remain silent and let President Obama do his job.

Teddy Roosevelt of course did the opposite, choosing to run third-party against his chosen successor, Taft.

So when former President Bush does speak, it behooves us to listen.

At a golfing tournament for wounded warriors, Bush had the following to say:

As he has in the past, Bush refused to “second guess” President Obama’s decisions, but noted that he was in favor of leaving behind a residual force of about 10,000-15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“The president has to make the choices he thinks are important. I’m not going to second guess our president. I understand how tough the job is. To have a former president bloviating and second-guessing is, I don’t think, good for the presidency or the country.”

Whether or not you agree with President Bush’s decision to not comment, it’s an honorable and principled one. When you’re an ex-President, especially a controversial one, it can pollute the public debate to hear about “well, I wouldn’t have done this” or “I can’t believe he’s doing that”. You have to let the current president live and function in their own vacuum.

When asked about his brother, Jeb Bush running, President Bush only said:

“Yes, I think he wants to be president,” the elder Bush brother said. “I think he’d be a great president. He understands what it’s like to be president — for not only the person running or serving, plus family. He’s seen his dad. He’s seen his brother. And so he’s a very thoughtful man and he’s weighing his options.”

Now, everyone is parsing those words (why did he say “want to be” rather than “want to run”?) but I mean, hell, what else could Bush say when presented with a question like this? Jeb Bush has made his ambitions clear in the past, so instead of adding news fodder, he carefully chose to simply echo that.

It was saddening to see the following, however:

Bush said recently that he used to speak with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, regularly while in office.

But he said he has not heard from President Obama except when the president called with the news that Usama bin Laden had been killed.

“He has not [called] on a regular basis, which is OK. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. It’s a decision he has made. Presidents tend to rely on the people they’re close to … and I understand that,” said Bush.

If you’re President, and your predecessor has a great deal of experience dealing with a problem, why would that not be your first phone call unless you were making it a point of pride to not talk with them?

this is how it’s done

When you look at the presidency, you’re among a rarefied group of around 3-5 living individuals who acutely understand the situation you’re dealing with, from being aware of the demands of office, to the chain of command, to the intelligence, to the knowledge of the threats that face America. Current and former CIA directors, cabinet members, Vice-Presidents, and others are knowledgeable, but not as knowledgeable of the situation as former presidents are.

So to make the choice to not engage or even pick the brain of those individuals, to not put aside any personal or political animosity for the good of the country, is telling.

Personally, I have a great deal of respect for President Obama as a man, obviously not for his decisions, but because anyone who chooses to deal with the demand of the job of President day in and day out, represent our country on a world stage, and speak up about the problems that face our country always deserves respect. But when I see decisions like this made for no discernible reason other than “I don’t like him because he’s the guy who came in before me”, I lose some of that respect.

one person here is clearly uncomfortable

President Obama should be using his second term to put aside any personal animosities and do what’s best for the country. He doesn’t have to worry about getting elected anymore and he has no obligation to get anyone else elected. In the years since President Bush’s difficult second term we’ve learned of the diplomacy, the charity work in Africa, the stock market stabilization, and dealing with a declining situation in Iraq.

When we look back on President Obama’s second term, what will his legacy be? Instead of looking to get courthouses and elementary schools named after him, he should be looking for sustainable solutions to the problems that face us: immigration, diplomacy, terrorism, technology. I may eat crow a decade in the future about this. But I don’t see any evidence of lasting solutions on our major issues, and I see stumbling from day to day problems, learning about them from the news instead of intelligence advisers, and meager success only from sheer, dumb luck.

what happens when you can’t blame him anymore?


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