Former President George W. Bush this weekend boldly underlined the different paths that he and his former vice president, Dick Cheney, have taken since leaving office last year.
With every appearance of earnest goodwill, Mr. Bush has returned to Washington along with his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton, to help Mr. Obama raise money for victims of Haiti earthquake.
On Saturday, Bush appeared with Obama and Mr. Clinton in the Rose Garden, and on Sunday he and Clinton spoke with the Sunday morning talk shows.
He spoke of Americans’ enduring charity, his own much-maligned experiences in the hurricane Katrina recovery effort, and he refused to take the bait cast by commentator Rush Limbaugh, who derided any US aid for Haiti as a waste of money.
While former Vice President Cheney has taken every opportunity to chastise the Obama administration, saying Obama’s antiterror policies have made America less safe, Bush has stayed resolutely silent until this moment. And now, he is winning some of the national praise that he had lost by the end of his term by putting politics aside.
Playing by the political rules
It is, in part, a reflection of the political aristocracy from which Bush has emerged. With a US senator for a grandfather (Prescott Bush), a former president for a father (George H.W. Bush), and a former governor of Florida for a brother (Jeb Bush), his family has been a virtual finishing school, grooming him in the decorum of appropriate political behavior.
Under those unwritten rules of ex-presidency, Rule No. 1 is: Don’t criticize your successor.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, former Bush adviser Karen Hughes said Bush felt it was his duty to give Obama his silence. On the same program, Clinton suggested that former presidents shouldn’t presume to give sitting presidents their advice.
In following this advice, Bush has begun to regain some of the national respect that he held in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The Politics Blog of The San Francisco Chronicle went so far as to praise Bush, a man whom the paper had virulently criticized during his presidency:
“Hearing George W. Bush praise President Obama for his successor's 'swift and timely response to the disaster' was a sign of statesmanship and national unity that has been sorely missing during the first year of the Obama presidency,” wrote Richard Dunham.
Tellingly, Bush chose not to comment on remarks by Mr. Limbaugh – again distancing himself from Cheney, who has often provided fodder for radio hosts, such as when he alleged that Obama was acting as if the US was not at war.
Limbaugh said on his radio show that Americans should not donate to Haiti for several reasons, including chronic Haitian corruption, the belief that Obama would seek to use the crisis for political gain, and extensive US involvement in Haiti already.
"We've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax,” Limbaugh said.
“It’s time to focus on helping people. I mean look, you've got people who are, children who've lost parents. People wondering where they're going to be able to drink water. There's a great sense of desperation. And so, my attention is on trying to help people deal with the desperation."
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