President Obama was gracious and right to invite former president George W. Bush to be at his side when he visits Ground Zero in Manhattan tomorrow. And the former president was gracious and right in declining the invitation. “President Bush appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight,” a Bush spokesman told Politico.
Upholding a tradition of ex-presidents, Bush has refused to upstage or criticize his successor since he left the White House on Jan. 20, 2009. Not when battles were being waged against Obama by his former lieutenants. Not even during his book tour when a few well-placed zingers would have been chum in cable news waters and pumped up sales. And not now.
Even with a unifying portrait of Obama and Bush standing together at the spot where everything changed, Bush’s presence would have been controversial. People would have been reminded of the intelligence failures that led to the worst domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history; of the color-coded hysteria that ensued; and of the misadventure in Iraq that took the eye off the ball in Afghanistan.
The killing of Osama bin Laden is cause for national celebration and reflection. Bush is doing both in his own way, out of public view this time. What he should do on Sept. 11, 2011, isn’t even a question. Bush must commemorate the 10th anniversary publicly. Sadly, he’ll have three venues to choose from.