More than four years after their transition, Obama and Bush remain distant, meeting only at rare formal events, such as Thursday’s dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
There were areas where the two men could, perhaps, have come together, such as their agreement on immigration reform and on the need to combat AIDS globally, both of which Obama mentioned at the library dedication.
But it was not to be.
Obama has spent much of his presidency undoing major elements of Bush’s legacy, including working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reversing tax cuts that benefited the wealthy. In both of his presidential campaigns, Obama routinely savaged Bush’s tenure, saying he pursued irresponsible economic and foreign policies.
Some Bush alumni also did their best to unseat Obama in last year’s election — a point the current president made to Bush’s former top political adviser, Karl Rove, during the unveiling of the 43rd president’s portrait at a White House event last May.
“You’re trying to get my picture hung prematurely,” Obama told Rove, according to a person at the event.
Rove responded, “Everything I can, Mr. President, everything I can.”
Bush, unlike former president Bill Clinton, has stayed out of politics since leaving the White House, an approach that Obama has appreciated, associates say.
“Whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves its people and shares that same concern and was concerned about all people in America, not just those who voted Republican,” Obama said during a Democratic fundraiser in Dallas on Wednesday night. “I think that’s true about him, and I think that’s true about most of us.”
Obama added on Thursday, “He is a good man.”
Bush seemed to have closer ties to Clinton during his tenure than Obama does to Bush, former Bush aides say. That was in part because of the warm relationship forged between Clinton and the 41st president, George H.W. Bush.
The current president and his predecessor rarely talk and seldom discuss politics or policy.
“It’s a cordial and professional relationship that has a lot of personal interest on the family side,” said Dan Bartlett, a former communications director for Bush. “A lot of that is, as President Bush has made very clear, he is perfectly fine with being off the grand stage.”
Bill Daley, a former Obama chief of staff, said the president rarely invoked George W. Bush’s name at the White House — though occasionally, he said, Obama’s team would privately bemoan how it was working to correct mistakes of the Bush era.