Opponents Find Agreement in Bashing Bush

By Dan Eggen
Monday, October 20, 2008

No matter how hard he tries, President Bush can't keep his name out of this year's presidential campaign.

Take Saturday's rally by GOP candidate John McCain in Concord, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country. Reprising a line he used during last week's debate with Democratic candidate Barack Obama, McCain declared: "I'm not George Bush!" The Republican crowd roared -- in a state that went for Bush by 12 points in 2004.

Obama, of course, also makes Bush the centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that McCain would effectively offer four more years of the same. And the Bush-bashing is not confined to the presidential race: A growing number of Republican lawmakers are also trying to distance themselves from the deeply unpopular president, who has held only a smattering of fundraisers this season, most of them closed to the public.

The most obvious example is Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who has been trying to align himself with Obama and other Democrats since the summer while offering sharp criticism of Bush and tepid words for McCain. Many conservative House Republicans are also criticizing the president for his controversial $700 billion financial rescue plan. One GOP member of Congress locked in a tight race, first-term Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, asserted last week that her Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg, was "more in line with President Bush's policies than I am."

Bachmann, one of the House's most conservative members, is famous for grabbing Bush's shoulder after the 2007 State of the Union address and holding on until she could give him a kiss. She suggested that Obama would get the same treatment: "If the presidency would somehow go to Barack Obama, I would welcome him to the 6th District as well. As a matter of fact, I would put my hand on his shoulder and give him a kiss if he wanted."

Alas, only a few days later, Bachmann said on MSNBC that she suspected Obama might be "anti-American." Does that mean no kiss?

Couching the Bushes

"W.," Oliver Stone's effort to capture the Bush presidency on film, opened over the weekend to mixed reviews, especially from Bush insiders. One of the movie's key themes is that the relationship between Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, is central to explaining the current president. According to the film, George W. Bush was a constant disappointment to his father, leading the son to act recklessly in Iraq and elsewhere to prove himself.

"The father was disappointed in him, there's no question," Stone said in an interview last week with my colleague Michael Abramowitz. "I really empathize with Bush. It's not easy to be the first son and to be known as the black sheep."

But some of those who know Bush well say the whole theory is ridiculous. Former Bush political adviser Karl Rove said it was "laughable to suggest that the actions of this president are driven by a dysfunctional relationship with his father." Jeb Bush, the president's brother and a former Florida governor, told the Washington Times: "The Oedipal rivalry is high-grade, unadulterated hooey."

Scott McClellan, the estranged former White House press secretary, wrote in a review on the Daily Beast Web site that the father-son theme in "W." was intriguing but also "educated conjecture," adding: "The extent to which George W. Bush was driven by a desire to earn his father's respect remains unknown."

Stone is unbowed, and notes that the Bushes are, well, obsessive in their disdain for psychological analysis. (Bush the elder said earlier this year that he didn't do many interviews because "somebody wants to psychoanalyze you, stretch you out on the couch . . . go into the differences that might exist.")

"It's not pop psychology," Stone said of his movie. "The Bushes have a real problem with psychiatry. They have made it very clear. Bush doesn't believe in Freud, and he doesn't believe in Darwin, either, for that matter."

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