Don't Be Tricked by George W. Bush's Cute Grandpa Act

The former president shouldn't get credit for not being Donald Trump.

Mar 3 2017, 9:34pm

Coming back into the public sphere to promote his new book of paintings of veterans, former president George W. Bush has been making stops on all the major talk shows to declare: I! Am! Not! Donald! Trump! On Thursday night, Bush told Jimmy Kimmel that unlike our current president, he was not bothered by SNL parodying him. "The best humor is when you make fun of yourself," said Bush, who as president cut taxes for the rich and started an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands and helped give rise to ISIS.

It should come as no surprise that George W. Bush knows how to work a talk show. He is giggly and personable. He makes jokes. That charisma is part of why he managed to stay in office for a second term, famously gaining popularity with voters as the president you'd most "want to have a beer with" even though he is an alcoholic and therefore not someone you should be drinking with. 

Normally former presidents refrain from throwing shade at the current White House occupant, especially when they share a party, but Bush hasn't been afraid to speak out against Trump. On Today, he told Matt Lauer "we all need answers" about Trump's connections to Russia and criticized Trump's war on the media, saying the press is "indispensable to democracy." Bush's softball criticism of Trump's least controversial shortcomings is... fine. But it's a little jarring to watch people treat a failed president (that's not me talking, that's historians) with such deference. When Bush left office in 2008, he had a 25 percent approval rating, the country was in the midst of a $2 trillion war, and just beginning one of its worst economic collapses

As Bush got jiggy on Ellen, Degeneres gushed, "I'm so excited to have you here!" But why? Bush opposed gay marriage, his administration oversaw the torture of prisoners, and he embarrassingly said that he had looked into Russian president Vladimir Putin's eyes and got "a sense of his soul." His election, reelection, and current press tour should serve to remind us that our country has a penchant for personality over policy. This is what made Trump's presidency possible. 

When pundits called Trump's speech before Congress this week "presidential," they basically meant "like Bush." Confident, comfortable in his own skin, able to get his mouth around reliable platitudes about compassion and patriotism. The fact that Bush had these surface-level virtues have led some liberals and leftists to discover sympathy for Bush—but that just makes one wonder what these people really dislike about the current president. And if all it takes for the Establishment to like you is a few civil interviews, no wonder everyone hates the Establishment so much. 

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