With the official opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, some Republicans seem eager to enshrine the former commander-in-chief’s legacy by comparing it to President Obama’s tenure.
A week after the Boston Marathon bombings, the first successful terrorist bombing on U.S. soil since 2001, a Republican freshman Congressman made an invalid argument that President George W. Bush did a better job keeping America safe from terrorism but failed to mention the 9/11 attacks.
Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said this on the House floor on Wednesday:
“I rise today to express grave doubts about the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies and programs. Counterterrorism is often shrouded in secrecy, as it should be, so let us judge by the results. In barely four years in office, five jihadists have reached their targets in the United States under Barack Obama: the Boston Marathon bomber, the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and in my own state–the Little Rock recruiting office shooter. In the over seven years after 9/11 under George W. Bush, how many terrorists reached their target in the United States? Zero! We need to ask ‘why is the Obama administration failing in its mission to stop terrorism before it reaches its targets in the United States?’”
Steve Benen over at the Rachel Maddow Blog likened Cotton’s “after 9/11” qualifier to “saying [that] other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn’t have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford’s Theater.”
Cotton’s not the only one touting Bush’s counterterrorism record. “Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11,” writes Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, striking the same praise/condemnation chord as Rep. Cotten.
Rubin contends that Bush is “mounting his comeback” four and a half years later. In one sense she’s right; according to new a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Bush’s approval ratings have risen to 47%, up 14 points from the dismal 23% of his last months in office. But it’s unclear how much of this “comeback” Bush has actually mounted. Even Rubin admits that he’s been “the most silent ex-president in my lifetime.”
Silence can only work to Bush’s advantage. The less we hear about somebody, the less we think about them, the harder it is for us to feel strongly one way or the other. As Chris Cillizza reminds us, “We have very short collective political memories. (That trait also explains why political second chances—Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner—can work in American society).”
And according to analysis done by Cillizza and Sean Sullivan at the Washington Post, Bush seems to have gained much of his ground in seniors, non-college whites, and moderates/conservative Democrats. African-Americans and liberal Democrats dislike the 43rd president with much the same fervor as ever.
“There’s no need to defend myself,” Bush told USA Today Monday. “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.” And he calls his library a place to “lay out facts.”
Here’s a fact, courtesy of Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, again via Steve Benen: “Amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, [an unnamed CIA briefer called] the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled ‘Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.’ Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: ‘All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.’”