|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Analyses of how this has happened are plentiful and varied, but most agree that it had something to do with the summer of 2009, when the town meetings that seemed a good, nicely democratic idea in the spring turned into a recruiting device for the angry crowds that would become the Tea Party.
At the same time, Bush profited from the fact that he kept a low profile and didn’t snipe at his successor, a task left to his vice president, who therefore took upon himself the enmity and scorn previously directed at his former boss. Dick Cheney was, in effect, a lightning rod, and he was joined in that function by Sarah Palin, who slid neatly into the slot Bush had occupied in the mind of all good liberals for eight long years. Hatred and contempt of Palin is now the favorite pastime of those who have abandoned the cowboy from Texas and transferred their obsessive animus to the belle of Alaska (who, I say again, is more formidable than many in both parties believe.)
Meanwhile, Bush’s policies came to seem less obviously reprehensible as the Obama administration drifted into embracing watered-down versions of many of them. Guantanamo hasn’t been closed. No Child Left Behind is being revised and perhaps improved, but not repealed. The banks are still engaging in their bad practices. Partisanship is worse than ever. Obama seems about to back away from the decision to try 9/11 defendants in civilian courts, a prospect that led the ACLU to run an ad in Sunday’s Times with the subheading “Change or more of the same?” Above that question is a series of photographs that shows Obama morphing into guess who — yes, that’s right, George W. Bush.
And now, right on schedule, Bush has resurfaced (just as I imagined him doing a year ago last September ) to join Bill Clinton in a humanitarian relief effort. He is officially a member in good standing of the ex-presidents club, and the longer he lives the more his reputation will be burnished. To be sure, his post-presidency resume is still thin, but we can expect it to be beefed up by good deeds, ceremonial appearances and the activities that will surround the building and opening of his library at Southern Methodist University. We’ll see Bush the tour guide and Bush the patron of historical scholarship and, perhaps, even Bush the seminar leader.
And the judgment of history? Well, I’m not that foolish, but I will venture to say that it will be more nuanced than anything the professional Bush-haters — indistinguishable in temperament from the professional Obama-haters — are now able to imagine. He will not go to the top of the list, but neither will he be the figure of fun and derision he seemed destined to be only a year ago. You heard it here.