In Second Term, Obama Takes Softer Tone Toward Bushes | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

In Second Term, Obama Takes Softer Tone Toward Bushes

Play associated audio

Former President George H.W. Bush will visit the White House on Monday, along with his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, to celebrate a milestone for Points of Light, a volunteer service organization that got its start during the first Bush administration.

During President Obama's first term, he didn't see much of the Bushes. He met with the former presidents — father, son or both — a total of just five times in four years.

So far, the second Obama term looks very different: Monday will mark Obama's third Bush meeting in three months.

At the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas in April, Obama talked about the exclusive coterie that has occupied the Oval Office — a group that understands the president's struggles in a way no one else can.

"Truth is, our club's more like a support group," he said.

Obama casually referred to his predecessor as "George," describing him as compassionate and generous. "And what I know is true about President Bush — and I hope my successor will say about me — is that we love this country and we do our best."

That tone is a contrast from four years ago.

When Obama took office, he rarely invoked the Bush name unless it was to assign blame for the Iraq war and the economic crisis. Today, he more often mentions the family in admiration.

A couple of weeks ago in Africa, Obama talked about how eager he was to thank his predecessor for starting an ambitious AIDS relief program.

"Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of people's lives have been saved," he said.

For his part, President George W. Bush has largely stayed out of the limelight.

"I don't really want to undermine our president," he explained during an interview with ABC at his presidential library. "And, frankly, the only way for me to generate any news is to either criticize the president or criticize my party. I'm not interested in doing either."

But last week, Bush did make news, in a way that pleased the Obama White House. While officiating at a naturalization ceremony, Bush said that the laws governing the U.S. immigration system aren't working.

"I don't intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy," Bush said. "But I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate."

A Different Focus

George W. Bush no longer has much influence over his party, but former Obama White House spokesman Bill Burton says statements like that one can't hurt.

"Now, unfortunately, the result of where the debate is right now suggests that House Republicans are content to block almost all of this, regardless of who says what," Burton says. "But it should give hope to proponents of immigration reform."

This is an odd turn of events, says Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. Suddenly, Obama and Bush are seeing things eye to eye.

"In the early days of the Obama administration, the focus was on things like Iraq and tax cuts, and so he found himself in direct opposition to George Bush's legacy," Galton says. "Well, now we're talking about things like immigration and aid to Africa."

And by today's standards, Galston says, the Bush family brand of Republicanism seems distinctly moderate — a contrast that Obama is happy to make.

"The entire family is looking better in retrospect," Galston says, "and I have to say that I think the elder Bush is an underestimated president."

'An Important Message'

There is also a larger significance to Obama's appearance with George H.W. Bush: As people in the Middle East struggle to establish democracies, events like this one remind the American people that despite Washington's dysfunction, the American system of government works better than many.

Anita McBride, who was Laura Bush's chief of staff, was recently at a summit in Tanzania where the former first lady and current first lady Michelle Obama met with African first ladies.

"The 10 African first ladies in attendance all said the same thing to me: For us to see the current and the former together, knowing how different their positions are, for us here in Africa, that is an important message," McBride says.

So Monday's White House event may be mostly a photo-op. But the significance of this particular photo sends an important reminder — around the world, and also here at home.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


'Language Of Food' Reveals Mysteries Of Menu Words And Ketchup

Linguist Dan Jurafsky uncovers the fishy origins of ketchup and how it forces us to rethink global history. He also teaches us how to read a menu to figure out how much a restaurant may charge.

'Language Of Food' Reveals Mysteries Of Menu Words And Ketchup

Linguist Dan Jurafsky uncovers the fishy origins of ketchup and how it forces us to rethink global history. He also teaches us how to read a menu to figure out how much a restaurant may charge.

Obama To Announce Large Ramp Up Of Ebola Fight

The U.S. military plans to establish a medical base in Liberia to help stop the Ebola epidemic. It will build 1,700 new treatment beds and train up to 500 health care workers every week.

Minecraft's Business Model: A Video Game That Leaves You Alone

Microsoft is buying the company that created the video game Minecraft, which has a loyal following in part because of the freedom it allows players — including freedom from pressure to buy add-ons.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.