The CNN poll in October that found that almost as many people said they liked George W. Bush as President Obama seemed like it was either a case of some drunk counting the numbers, or a headline grabbing ploy by CNN on a slow news day. The poll seemed to add even more insult to absurdity when it found that a statistically insignificant 2 percent said that Bush was a worse president than Obama. A year earlier Obama had more than a 20 percent edge over Bush in the number that ranked him a far better president than Bush. But now Gallup has weighed in with its poll on Bush's alleged renewed popularity. It went even than the earlier poll and found that Bush has edged past Obama by one percentage point as the better ranked president. Gallup just crunches the numbers and doesn't really go to deep into why the supposed stunning turnaround in Bush's popularity other than to chalk it up to the passage of time, short memories, a little historical revisionism, and of course, Bush's well orchestrated and scripted book tour filled with adulatory, and puff ball interviews.
That's much too simple. It's true that the passage of time does dim memories and presidents that left office with abominable ratings (Truman) or were driven from office in public disgrace (Nixon), or suffered a landslide loss (Carter) get cut some slack with age, and are benevolently viewed as harmless, even wizened elder statesman. With the passage of time, historians pick and highlight the favorable things that low rated presidents did. In Truman's case, it was the Marshall Plan and his hanging tough against the Soviets during the early stages of the Cold War. In Nixon's case it was his China thaw, and accepting the wind down of the Vietnam War. With Carter, he's garnered admiration as a better president outside the White House than inside the White House with his thoughtful books, commentaries, and insights on foreign policy and his globetrotting peace keeping and humanitarian efforts.
But that took years, even decades before the public rehabilitation of former presidents. Bush is getting the historical pass barely two years out of office. The colossal giveaways to the corporate rich and Wall Street, a failed, flawed, and absolutely unnecessary war, a bungled Katrina response, off the chart sex, and corruption scandals within the GOP, a tanked economy, and a general clueless, governing incompetence that defied political belief have seemingly vanished from public and historical view faster than a Houdini disappearing act. The disappearance doesn't totally explain why so many now pine for a return of Bush over Obama. Bush has rally done nothing to deserve this nostalgia, and history has certainly not absolved him, let alone vindicated him of, his colossal policy failures.
Bush gets the early pass in part because of the two year relentless, and structured GOP campaign of denigration, vilification, and assault on Obama's policy initiatives and Obama personally. Its shock troops, the Tea Party horde, Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, Palin and the endless pack of shrill, hatchet job rightside bloggers, websites, and talk show hacks have effectively painted a picture of an Obama as an alien, anti-American, a closet Muslim terrorist sympathizer, a socialist, communist, and an inveterate America basher and hater.
The other part is the confusion, frustration, and even anger at Obama for not selling the positive accomplishments that his administration has accomplished in the face of the GOP assault and the mess that Bush's failures have littered his presidential path with. There's also the anger at him from the throng of progressive and liberal Democrats for not hitting, and hitting back hard ala Truman and FDR at the GOP's bullying, badgering and hectoring. The term that was once heard in only the faintest of whispers "cave" in in regards to his policy compromises with the GOP has now progressed to a roar. The latest being the compromise agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Even though his back was to the wall and there were pluses in the compromise--unemployment extension, social security tax cuts, and cuts for small business-- the president will be endlessly reminded he broke his cornerstone campaign promise that he would not back the tax cut extension for the rich. That's now ancient history.
Bush's rehabilitation can be chalked up in part to the penchant to give lambasted presidents good marks when they are safely out of the White House and can do no more harm and in bigger part to the calculated assault on Obama. But the desire of so many to compare the man who was the architect of so many towering policy failures to Obama and then believe the worst of the worst about Obama still grates to no end.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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