George W. Bush sat out the 2008 presidential race, and the 2010 midterms.
But now that the voting is done, we’ve got a sense of what the former president thinks about the man who replaced him.
In his 497-page memoir, Decision Points, Bush heaps praise on Barack Obama.
Don’t get the forty-third president wrong. He’s still got the Republican faith.
In fact, he even believes that Arizona Senator John McCain could have won the 2008 race.
Unfortunately, Bush argues, McCain made a lot of mistakes.
The worst of these, in the former president’s view, was McCain’s failure to embrace the Bush magic.
"I understood he had to establish his independence," writes Bush. "I thought it looked defensive for John to distance himself from me. I was confident I could have helped him make his case."
Fascinating point there, Mr. President.
What presidential campaign doesn’t want to associate itself with a soon-to-be-former president who has just crashed the economy?
Bush’s approval rating on the eve of the 2008 election was 20 percent.
As the Los Angeles Times noted on November 4, 2008: "As Americans are turning out to the polls in record numbers, Bush’s approval rating, according to the latest CBS News tracking poll, has dipped to 20%, the lowest ever recorded for a president. His disapproval rating of 72% matches his all-time high, reached last month."
Bush reworking of conventional wisdom gets even bolder when he starts ruminating about how the economic meltdown of 2008 should have helped McCain.
"Our party controlled the White House, so we were the natural target for the finger-pointing," the former president argues. "Yet, I thought the financial crisis gave John his best chance to mount a comeback. In periods of crisis, voters value experience and judgment over youth and charisma. By handling the challenge in a statesmanlike way, John could make the case that he was the better candidate for the times."
McCain failed to do that, argues Bush, who says the Republican nominee’s grandstanding allowed Democrats to suggest that McCain was "erratic in crisis."
McCain demanded a White House meeting on the meltdown.
Bush convened it, asked McCain for his plan and was shocked when the Republican nominee said he had nothing to add to the discussion.
"I was puzzled," writes Bush. "He had called for this meeting. I assumed he would come prepared to outline a way to get the bill passed."
Recalling the meeting, Bush concludes that: "What had started as a drama quickly descended into a farce." It would, the former president argues, "have been comical except that the stakes were so high."
So who shined in a time of crisis?
Bush was impressed with Obama.
Hailing the Democrat’s "calm demeanor" at the turbulent money, Bush writes that: "I thought it was smart when [Obama] informed the gathering that he was in constant contact with [Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson]. His purpose was to show that he was aware, in touch, and prepared to help get a bill passed."
In Decision Points, Bush praises Obama’s "smart, disciplined, high-tech campaign to get his young supporters to the polls." He writes that: "On election night, I was moved by images of black men and women crying on TV. Barack Obama had campaigned on hope, and that was what he had given many Americans."
Ultimately, argues Bush, Obama represented the future while McCain was the face of the past. "Like Dad in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain was on the wrong side of generational politics," argues Bush. "Electing him would have meant skipping back a generation. By contrast, 47-year-old Barack Obama represented a generational step forward."
Points well taken.
But is Bush just a fan of Obama’s campaign?
Bush’s book is filled with praise for Obama.
The almost 500-page book mentions the current president ten times.
Every mention is favorable, with Bush heaping praise on Obama’s foreign policy decisions and recalling thoughtful discussions with his successor regarding everything from organization of the White House to bailing out failing auto companies.
The balance Bush strikes in the book—and in the interviews to promote it—is a telling one. He’s got plenty of praise for Obama and plenty of criticism for McCain, Republicans and even the Tea Party movement. Warning in an interview with the Times of London about the dangers of right-wing populism, Bush says: "Here is what I am most concerned about: isolationism, protectionism, and nativism, the evil triplets that occasionally hold hands in America."
"I don’t think there is a Tea Party platform. A tea party is a frustrated-people movement," Bush told the Times. He compared the current movement to the "Reform Party" movement that formed around billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. "The difference between 1992 and this cycle is that [Reform Party activists] had a candidate around whom to rally," says Bush.
Gee, what about Sarah Palin?
According to the New York Daily News, he has one word for the Tea Party heroine. "Unqualified."
Coming from George W. Bush, of all people, that’s a harsh review.
And, if his friends are to be believed, he reserved it not for a Democrat but for a Republican.