There is irony overload in President Obama describing President George W. Bush as “gracious” and “patriotic.” Obama has been among the most ungracious of successors, rising to power by vilifying Bush 43 and blaming four years of economic failure on his predecessor. He has assiduously refused to acknowledge Bush’s accomplishments (e.g. the troop surge). Dubbing his predecessor as “patriotic” is only a compliment in a political universe in which “Bush lied, people died” is taken as gospel. (Does he imagine there is some doubt as to Bush’s patriotism that requires Obama’s stamp of approval?)

Former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and their wives-Evan Vucci/A.P.

Obama owes much to Bush (all Americans do, in fact), including economic policies he inherited and took credit for — TARP, the auto bailout. Obama was handed a military success in Iraq (and then fumbled it away by withdrawing all troops to leave Iraq wallowing in sectarian violence). The Osama bin Laden hunt and drone missile program, both successes, were undertaken by Bush. Obama hasn’t been able to bring himself to acknowledge the continuities between the two administrations or reflect on his predecessor’s successes in areas in which he has been entirely unsuccessful (e.g. Middle East diplomacy, bipartisan legislative efforts).

Moreover, Bush gave Obama, unlike other former presidents, the gift of silence. Bush, to the dismay of supporters, chose to stay nearly entirely out of the spotlight, never publicly criticizing his successor. At times when Obama’s failures were writ large (e.g. Palestinians snubbing him and undoing the Oslo Accords by going to the United Nations for a declaration of statehood) he did not have to deal with “I told you so’s” from Bush.

The famously prickly Obama is not known for his self-reflection. Losses are taken bitterly for him, with him often accusing his opponents of ill motives. But if he can’t bring himself to acknowledge Bush’s substantive accomplishments he could maybe learn from his example.  Bush did not whine about the media. Bush did not accuse opponents of putting party above country. Bush did not blame his predecessor (for, say, being asleep at the wheel while al-Qaeda gained ground). Bush did not shy from condemning evil regimes. Bush did not avoid confronting his own party when he thought it was best for the country (e.g. on the surge, on immigration reform, on Medicare Part D).

President Obama has too often imitated President Carter by being peevish, petty and resentful (not to mention unduly solicitous of anti-Israeli regimes). Maybe he might try emulating Bush instead. He can start by being gracious.