Okay, not entirely. Bush 43 has long been a piñata on the left, and that will probably never change. But lately journalists and publications who compose what Republicans call the “liberal media” have been citing him as a positive example of how politicians can show at least more tolerance and civility in their remarks than the current contenders for the GOP nomination.
Mehdi Hasan, host of “UpFront” on Al Jazeera English, penned an op-ed in the New York Times on Nov. 30 under the headline “Why I miss George W. Bush.” Just process that sentiment coming from Al Jazeera and the New York Times for a moment. Now read the top of Hasan’s piece:
As a Briton who, like millions of my compatriots, opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, I did not expect to ever find much to admire about President George W. Bush. But as a Muslim who has come to work in America, I have recently had to revise my opinion.
Less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,996 people, President Bush held a news conference at the Islamic Center of Washington. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said, flanked by imams and community leaders. “Islam is peace.” …
Fourteen years later, such remarks seem distant, if not improbable, amid the miasma of anti-Muslim hate and fearmongering fostered by the Republican candidates for president.
Bush’s post-9/11 address at the Islamic Center seems to have made a lasting impression. The Atlantic wrote in December that “Bush’s inclusive rhetoric about Muslims has been cited frequently and wistfully during the last few months, as Republicans have taken ever-more strident stands on Islam and Muslims.” A day later, Time magazine ran an op-ed declaring that “Donald Trump makes George W. Bush look like a paragon of statesmanship.”
Bush worked hard to sow tolerance for Muslim-Americans, convinced — like President Obama — that respect and openness was an asset in the fight against jihadists. Integrated, assimilated communities don’t give aid to violent extremists. In the week since the Paris attacks, however, his would-be successors — the 2016 Republican presidential field — have jettisoned these efforts. Now, much of the GOP is stirring anti-Muslim sentiment.
And on MSNBC the same day, liberal host Chris Hayes played part of Bush’s Islamic Center address and asked a guest who was there, “Can you imagine a speech like that being made by a political leader or someone running for president today?”
It was basically a rhetorical question with an obvious answer: no.
Even “Saturday Night Live” has had some fun with the idea that Bush looks rather sensible compared with the GOP field.
Who thought we’d ever reach the point when this segment of the media is wishing that Republican candidates would behave more like George W. Bush? Yet here we are.
To be clear: The praise for Bush has been very narrow in scope — nothing like what Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said during a Republican undercard debate last month, when he was still in the presidential running. “I wish he were president right now; we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Graham said, referring to the current threat of Islamic terrorism, which he blamed on Obama.
Positive media references to Bush have been mostly relative, rather than absolute. It’s not that he was actually a good president; it’s that today's Republican options are so bad that Bush sounds pretty decent, by comparison. That’s the argument.
Although some in the liberal press have offered a hat-tip to “W” for refraining from demagoguery, others have argued that he doesn’t deserve even that much. Salon has decried what it termed “the false resurrection of George W. Bush.”
Still, the fact that Bush would be invoked as a favorable model is a reminder of just how topsy-turvy the 2016 GOP primary has become. Trump & Co. not only have members of the media seeing things they never expected to see, but also feeling things they never expected to feel about certain former presidents.