Jonah Goldberg

Now that all those statues of Saddam have been toppled, there's another presidential edifice that needs to be knocked down: the tiresome cliché that George W. Bush is his father's son. Yeah, yeah, of course he's Poppy's biological son. But, politically, he's a different creature altogether.

For the last three years, talking heads, profile writers, editorialists and political opponents of the president have tried to make the current Bush nothing more than a chip off the ol' block. They say that the son is a privileged scion of a privileged family and that his presidency is some kind of vindication of his father's single term in the Oval Office.

I'm not saying this isn't interesting territory for speculation, but Freudian analysis can only take you so far. At some point, the batteries of the father-son analogy simply run out. A LexisNexis database search reveals that Dana Milbank, the Washington Post White House correspondent well known for his snarky coverage of the president, has written or co-written more than 100 articles containing a father-son comparison.

Another search for articles using the phrase "mistakes of his father" reveals far too many to wade through. The most common insight is that the son doesn't want to repeat his dad's mistakes. As former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta told USA Today, "If there's one thing we know about him, it's that he has studied the mistakes that his father made and he is loath to repeat them."

Well, actually we know a lot of things about Bush with more certainty than we know this -he has two legs, for example -but fair enough. It's certainly true that President Bush has studied the mistakes of his father -plenty of Bush's people have told me that themselves. It's also no doubt true that watching his father's defeat had a lasting impression on the president.

But is this really that surprising, or even that interesting? All presidents study the mistakes, and the successes, of their predecessors -particularly the mistakes of predecessors from their own party.

For example, the first President Bush's post-Gulf War crash in the polls is a lesson for the ages. In other words, there's every reason to believe that if, say, John McCain or John Ashcroft had been elected president in 2000, they too would have studied the mistakes of the first President Bush. That's what presidents do.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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