Bush, Unlike Obama, Felt Duty Bound to Hold His Tongue
A little more than six years ago, RealClearPolitics co-founder John McIntyre and I went to the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee to interview former President George W. Bush about his new memoir, “Decision Points.”
Bush’s book came out on Nov. 9, 2010, exactly one week after the Democrats had suffered a thorough defeat in that year’s midterm elections – a loss of 63 House seats and six Senate seats. It was, in President Obama’s own words, a “shellacking” for his party, and one that came despite a furious campaign effort by the president himself.
We half-expected the former president to be in a triumphal mood after watching his successor suffer such a public rebuke. It would only be human nature to feel some measure of vindication, especially for someone who’d been as maligned by the Democrats, who had spent the previous two years blaming nearly every problem in America on the former president.
Bush would have none of it. The ground rules for the interview were that the 43rd president would only talk about his book and the decisions he made as president – nothing about current domestic politics or the recent elections. The book tour was Bush’s first foray back into the public eye since leaving office, and he scrupulously avoided any public criticism of the incumbent president, as he’d done since the day Barack Obama was elected in 2008.
After the interview was over and the tape recorder was turned off, we chatted for a few more minutes. It was then I asked Bush what he thought of Obama’s performance in office, hoping for a candid answer.
I remember him saying two things in response (and I’m paraphrasing now because the recorder was turned off). The first reply, delivered with that classic George W. Bush half-smile and twinkle in his eye, was that being president was “a lot tougher than it looks.” Even in private, that’s as close he would get to criticizing President Obama.
But it was the second thing he said that struck me more. Bush said “the job is hard enough” without having your predecessor out in public mucking things up.
It was then I realized that to former President Bush, staying out of the limelight was more than just a courtesy. He believed it was his patriotic duty to not be an impediment or distraction to his duly elected successor – no matter how much he might disagree on a policy proposal or action taken by the president or his administration.
I thought about this encounter as I watched former President Obama re-emerge into public view this week just 10 days after leaving office. Though still on vacation, Obama released a statement through a spokesperson saying he was “heartened” by the anti-Trump protests taking place around the country. Obama also criticized Trump’s executive order temporarily halting travel from seven Middle Eastern countries, and mischaracterized it for good measure, calling it a “Muslim ban,” which it is not, adding that he “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”
For the most part, President Obama and the first lady handled the transition with grace and dignity. But it’s a worrying sign that just days after exiting the White House, the former president is unwilling to afford his successor the same courtesy Bush afforded him. Clearly, Obama does not view it as his patriotic duty to keep his own counsel. Just the opposite.
Instead of heeding Bush’s quiet example, Obama is heeding the noisy desires of the Democratic Party’s liberal, activist base, which has convinced itself that opposing Donald Trump is a righteous cause and a moral imperative. They want, and expect, former President Obama to be a leader of “the resistance.”
Two years ago, George W. Bush appeared on Fox News to promote yet another book, “41: A Portrait of My Father.” Host Sean Hannity asked Bush why he had made the decision to stay silent during Obama’s presidency, despite having opinions about some of Obama’s actions.
“I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president,” Bush said. “I think it’s bad for the presidency, for that matter.”
At that time Democrats, and President Obama, agreed with George W. Bush on this point and applauded him for it. But not anymore.