When U.S. Presidents leave office, the sudden shift to retirement is often difficult. Some find ways to make the most of it, reinventing their persona—as in the case of Jimmy Carter (though he does seem determined to undermine himself by meddling too much in foreign affairs). Others have spent the rest of their lives rehabilitating damaged images—Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon come to mind.
But seldom has a man left the corridors of power and managed to actually retire in the way George W. Bush has. He is, of course, back in the news these days because of the death of Osama Bin Laden, but clearly #43 is far from comfortable with the episodic attention. His comments have been appropriate and gracious, but it is clear that he prefers the shadows of a quiet post-Presidency to even a moment basking in the glow of victory—even if that victory for the nation is in large part creditable to him.
In fairness, it was a nice gesture on the part of President Obama to invite his predecessor to the recent ceremony at Ground Zero in Manhattan. In fact, it was even a bit unusual. Franklin Roosevelt ignored Herbert Hoover when he dedicated the dam on the Colorado River in September of 1935, even though FDR’s predecessor had been vitally connected to the project from his days as an engineer and as Secretary of Commerce. In fact, in an act of thinly veiled pettiness, Mr. Roosevelt changed the name from Hoover Dam to Boulder Dam (this was reversed by Harry Truman who developed a friendly relationship with the man Roosevelt feared and despised).
Richard Nixon pretty much ignored his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, in the first months of his Presidency when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon. The 37th President talked to the three-man crew by phone from the Oval Office. Then he made his way to the Pacific to meet the heroic trio on the ship recovering their space capsule. He called it “the greatest day since creation,” though his good friend Billy Graham reminded him about Easter and Christmas. But no call went out to Johnson’s ranch in Texas, despite the fact that the whole push to go to the moon had taken place under him and his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. In fact, JFK had made LBJ the point person for the initiative back in 1961.
So, it was very kind of Barack Obama to reach out to former President Bush. It was also politically astute. This is especially true in light of the obvious connections between the operational success of the mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan and some of the very policies and procedures set up by George W. Bush. We all remember those policies being vehemently disparaged by then candidate Obama.
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