Barbara Bush signals the end of the Bush dynasty
The 87-year-old former first lady acknowledged that George W Bush had worn out the family’s welcome in the White House
Former US presidents George HW Bush (left) and George W Bush at the dedication of the George W Bush Presidential Centre on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, last Thursday. Photograph: Reuters/Tony Gutierrez
US president Barack Obama laughs with former first lady Barbara Bush during the dedication of the George W Bush Presidential Centre in Dallas, Texas, last Thursday. Photograph: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Barbara Bush is a word that rhymes with fright. She’s right. Asked on the Today show whether she thought her son Jeb should run for president in 2016, as W has urged, the famously candid and caustic Silver Fox offered the most honest assessment of her oldest son’s legacy.
Aside from the cascading disasters that the country is still struggling to recover from, a key W legacy is derailing the path of the son Poppy and Barbara Bush dearly wanted to be president: Jeb.
For the first time, the 87-year-old former first lady acknowledged, in essence, that W had worn out the family’s welcome in the White House. “He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t,” she said when asked if her second son should aim to be the third Bush in chief. “I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes.”
Jenna Bush Hager, a Today show correspondent who was a participant in the Thursday interview with her grandmother, mother and sister, blurted “Surpri-i-ise!” and threw up her arms. CNN emailed Jeb to find out what he thought of his mother’s “priceless” comment and Jeb emailed back: “Priceless indeed!”
But Bar, who was also giving the back of the hand to the Clintons, spit out the truth. It is wearying that America, a country that broke away from aristocratic England in a burst of rugged individualism, has spawned so many of its own royal political families, dynasties that feel entitled to inhabit the White House, generation after generation, letting their family competitions and tensions shape policy and history to an alarming degree.
Why does a George P., Chelsea, Beau Biden, Joe Kennedy III presidential sweepstakes feel so inevitable? There were plenty of other, less perspicacious assessments of the Bush legacy on the occasion of W’s presidential library opening in Dallas. Josh Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff in the second term, defended his economic record – two off-the-books, badly managed wars and more of the deregulation that led to toxic derivatives, government bailouts and a near collapse of the whole economy – saying it “really wasn’t so bad”.
Former Bush staffers and some on the right defended him in the usual debates: Was he the Decider or the Dupe? Was he smart or simplistic? The latter question is really beside the point in Washington, the capital of smart people doing dumb things.
W’s presidency will go down in infamy because he ignored Katrina and the Constitution and cherry-picked intelligence with Tony Blair to build up a faux case for invading Iraq. That is why the three Democratic presidents who talked at his library’s dedication had to cherry-pick their topics, focusing mostly on W’s good work on Aids in Africa.
Though he presents himself as the Batman of anti-terrorism, W ignored the warning that Osama was going to strike and didn’t catch him dead or alive. He failed to fix the egregious problems of agencies co-ordinating watch lists and dropping the ball on information about terrorist suspects, which flared again in the Boston bombings.
W and other Bush officials continue to say they could not have known that Saddam had no WMD. I’m now told that Saddam sent word through the Saudis to the Bushies over and over that he had no WMD and was only blustering to keep his nemesis in the neighbourhood, Iran, at bay.
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld weren’t looking for the truth, and they weren’t hitting the pause button the way President Obama is with Syria right now, sensitive to the quicksand nature of the region. They simply wanted to blast some Arabs and Saddam was a weak target, just as W was a weak president, easily led wherever Cheney and his co-conspirator Rummy, along with their bellicose band of neocons, wanted to take him.
Obama and others praised him last week as “comfortable in his own skin”. That’s absurd. People who are comfortable in their own skin don’t shape their lives and actions so self-consciously, and often self-destructively, on another. W veered between aping his father and doing the opposite of his father. Pressed by Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning , he reiterated the unfathomable fact that he went to war with the same dictator that his father did, without ever seeking his dad’s counsel. “He knows,” W said of his father, “that each presidential decision requires advice from people who have studied an issue.” That’s quite a rationalisation. Who, after all, has studied the issue more closely than another president who decided against invading Baghdad?
Sadly, no one in W’s inner circle studied the issue. As Colin Powell has noted, there was no proper debate or meeting of the National Security Council before the invasion. W went to war on body language, manipulated by the war-mongering gargoyles who would also bring us torture, domestic spying and secret prisons.
“I can’t remember a specific incident where I called up and said, ‘What do I do?”’ W said about getting advice from his level-headed dad. That’s the shame of it.