One might imagine numbers like these would move the Obama team to pull the plug on the blame-fest, but one would be wrong. The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne rang out the old year by urging Democrats to double down, claiming that only by painting the Bush age as a “squandered decade” that ravaged the country could Obama’s fortunes be revived. “Much of the contention surrounding Barack Obama’s presidency is simply a continuation of our argument over the effects of George W. Bush’s time in office,” he said. It isn’t: It’s about the spending, the deficits, the enormous expansion of federal power, and the incredible corruption, deal-making, and squalor surrounding the health care reform bill. Dionne contends Obama was elected as a rebuke to the Bush foreign policy, but John McCain, who was for the surge before Bush was, was close to Obama through most of the year, and led in the two-week window between his convention and the financial collapse. Dionne sees Obama’s election as a repudiation of Bush’s governing policies, but Cheney won his debates with the president, and in the past few months conservative ideas have come back. Dionne says Obama is “both the anti-Bush and the leader of the post-Bush cleanup squad,” but it’s a strange kind of cleanup that leaves in place the Bush defense secretary (Robert Gates), the Bush generals in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Bush prescription for the war in Afghanistan, not to mention Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, the original architect in 2008 of Bush’s response to the fiscal collapse. Dionne says “we have no choice but to reach a settlement about the meaning of the last 10 years”—i.e., to agree with him they have been a catastrophe—to give Obama a chance of succeeding. But Obama’s ultimate success or failure will have very little to do with Bush’s reputation. It will rest on his own ability to hold the line in the war against terror, restore some sense of fiscal stability, and keep the country safe from further attacks. These have very little to do with the Bush reputation. They rest in the hands of fate and Obama and have nothing to do with what anyone thinks about Bush.
Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy ran to succeed a president of the opposite party whom they did not oppose in the election but whose administrations they felt obliged to critique. Once in office, however, they dropped the subject, and concentrated on governing, without further complaints about the messes they were handed: the Communists in Eastern Europe, the Communists with the H-Bomb, the conflict in Korea, the war in Vietnam and Laos, the potentially lethal flash point and mess in Berlin. Both Ike and Jack were judged in the end to be pretty good presidents, and their era—the early Cold War—as very important. They fought the enemy, not one another, at least not in public, and not once they had taken the oath of office. The crises they faced stand up to Obama’s. And back then, the buck stopped with them.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.