For a balanced look at the presidency of George W. Bush you need only read The Post op-eds by Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. For Gerson, Bush was “a president who stuck to his principles.” To Robinson his legacy “keeps getting worse.” Both men get to the good, the bad and the worse of the policies and decisions of the 43rd occupant of the White House. But I was struck by something President Obama said that gets at my overall feeling about Bush 43.
“[W]hat President Clinton said is absolutely true — to know the man is to like the man, because he’s comfortable in his own skin,” Obama said. “He knows who he is. He doesn’t put on any pretenses. He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is a good man.”
The Post’s editorial board had a meeting with then-President Bush in the private residence of the White House in 2008. It was there that I got see what Gerson describes as Bush’s “potent likability in small groups.” He was warm, self-deprecating and funny. As a recent transplant from New York with a less-than-charitable view of him, I left that meeting with a newfound respect for the man. I didn’t agree with him on most everything he said during our 90-minute meeting. But there was no doubt in my mind that no matter the issue, he firmly believed in what he was doing and why he was doing it.
As Obama said, Bush “knows who he is” and is a man “comfortable in his own skin.”
Contrast that with the last Republican presidential nominee. The ideological promiscuity of Mitt Romney made him untrustworthy. His swift changes in position on gay rights, climate change, immigration, abortion and his own health-care law left conservatives, liberals and moderates alike doubting whether Romney had a principled core. And there’s nothing more dangerous than an unmoored occupant of the Oval Office.
Looking at the spectacle of all the living former presidents gathered yesterday at the Bush library dedication yesterday in Dallas, I was more understanding of the Bush presidency and thankful for the continuation of Obama’s.
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