"Miss me yet?" ask the ubiquitous billboards and T-shirts featuring George W. Bush's cheerful countenance. It seems maybe the answer is yes.
The World Series crowd cheered as the retired but reinvigorated Bush threw the first pitch of the fourth game. This week come the tour and the TV appearances connected with Bush's newly published account of his big decisions in life, from giving up booze to invading Iraq. Next week at Southern Methodist University, it's ground breaking time for the Bush Center. Not a bad comeback for a president whom his successor keeps deriding as the source of America's present problems.
It was bound to happen. The Bush presidency -- for all its failures and missteps, which were many -- was never half as bad as the boos and Bronx cheers from the left field stands made it out to be. Moreover, Barack Obama's pledges and promises were so over the top that he was bound to disappoint -- a condition he failed to improve with his sneers and denigrations.
To the refurbishment of Bush's standing with the public, Obama indeed may have contributed the most just by his boorish whining. Not my fault! I didn't do it! I'm just trying to fix the car! See that guy sipping the Slurpee -- he's the one!
Bush -- amid obvious temptations to show up at the White House, confront his detractor and deck him -- never opened his mouth in public protest against the ill nature flowing from Obama's mouth. He kept his trap shut, behaved like a gentlemen, and reminded his countrymen what a class act looks like in politics.
Over a month ago, a CNN poll found that Americans regarded Obama as a better president than Bush by only 2 percentage points. Who knows, but Bush could have already vaulted into the lead.
You never know about presidential refurbishments. Everyone thought Richard Nixon would slither away to ignominy. In fact, bloodied but unbowed, as the poet would have it, he came back strong: a sensible, even wise, counselor on international affairs, dispensing his analyses in best-selling books. There was more to him than tape gaps, it turned out.
Ironically, Harry Truman -- Nixon's adversary in the '40s -- came back during Watergate: dead as he was by then. The biographer David McCullough made Harry's tart tongue a symbol of his essential honesty. Once, Americans had joked that LSMFT (Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco) meant "Lord, Save Me from Truman." Amid the Watergate turbulence, various Americans prayed to be saved by someone (SET ITAL) like (END ITAL) Truman.
George W. Bush may not have been George Washington, and he may have outraged critics who hoped to turn him around on the Iraq war and waterboarding, and he may have been unduly careless when it came to spending taxpayers' money and increasing federal power through ill-conceived legislation, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. But he didn't contemplate, far less ram through, an unpopular "reform" of health; nor did he depreciate the work of predecessor presidents in advancing American interests abroad; nor regularly put the knock on businessmen; nor lecture Supreme Court justices on television; nor bandy witticisms with television performers; nor pass himself off as an authority on whatever came into view -- e.g., police procedures in Cambridge, Mass.; nor lower, in countless ways, the dignity of the White House; nor give the impression the main signal caller on Capitol Hill was Ms. Nancy Pelosi.
To one degree or another, we're all afflicted with grass-is-greener syndrome. That's to say, we're impossible to satisfy. We want to move on. "Change" is our middle name as a people -- a trait that keep scholars and fellow journalists busy trying to refurbish reputations stained by events.
Obama himself will benefit eventually from reappraisal, which isn't the present point. That point being, George W. Bush -- patriot, family man, church-going Christian, reformed drunk -- did his duty as he saw it for eight critical years in the life of his country. We can surely give him credit for that much.
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