Missing George W. Bush; Obama Channels the Former President

Article excerpt


Each day of the Obama presidency seems to bring a new, perversely delicious irony. Last week, on the same day that Mr. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize solely for being the anti-Bush, former President George W. Bush got a lovely prize of his own: the growing appreciation of the American people.

Public Policy Polling released a new survey that showed that while 50 percent preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. Bush, a stunning 44 percent preferred Mr. Bush to Mr. Obama. Further, a separate poll showed public approval of former Vice President Dick Cheney moving up by 10 points to 39 percent.

Making these poll numbers even more remarkable is Mr. Obama's own free-falling job approval: He's routinely below 50 percent, with some polls showing him as low as 43 percent. A year ago, when Mr. Bush suffered from dismal approval ratings and hope ran high for the changing of the guard to Mr. Obama, the idea of Mr. Bush surpassing Mr. Obama in public popularity was laughable.

Distance from a former president, however, tends to make the heart grow fonder for him. Presidents Truman and Nixon left office under dark clouds of scandal and with abysmal levels of support, but with the passage of time, both have been reassessed far more positively. The same is beginning to happen for Mr. Bush, and a lot faster than it did for Truman and Nixon.

The re-evaluation of Mr. Bush is occurring for two main reasons. 1) The expectations set by Mr. Obama, his campaign, and those who supported him that he would be a kind of Magical Merlin, capable of changing human nature and the interests of nations, were always impossible. He is perceived as failing because there was never any way he could have delivered the lofty, saviorlike promises he made. He is as earth-bound as was Mr. Bush.

And 2) It's quickly dawning on more and more people that the presidency is difficult. This obvious reality is often overlooked until a president leaves office and is replaced by a successor who appears submerged by the responsibilities. It's the hardest job in the world for a reason: Every day brings a new, impossible challenge that demands immediate attention; some new, tough decision that must be made; some new, unprecedented problem that needs to be solved. The gig is no picnic, and executive experience matters. In an interview on Sunday's 60 Minutes, when Mr. Obama was asked about making hard decisions, he literally blurted out, This is really hard. …