It could be American politics’ finest moment. But it also could be its phoniest. Democrats saying nice things about Republicans and vice versa.
“He is a good man,” President Barack Obama said Thursday of George W. Bush at the dedication of the latter’s presidential center at SMU.
Ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also said nice things about Bush. That made three Democrats who rose to the top of the political ladder saying nice things about a Republican who did likewise.
Are we buying this kind of on-stage, inter-party love in an era in which questioning your political foes’ heritage seems to be the way to go? Finest moment, or phoniest?
We’ve little to no evidence of any kind of ongoing relationship between Bush and Obama. Folks on both sides have said harsh things about the other. Longtime Bush adviser Karen Hughes recently told me, “After 2008, the president came home and for the next two years President Obama blamed him for everything.”
The night before the dedication, Naomi Aberly, hostess of a Democratic National Committee event at her home, thanked Bush for offering up a reason for Obama to come to Dallas to raise money for the Dems. Obama’s motorcade rolled past Ross Perot’s home en route to the DNC event in a 12,000-square-foot home that’s a mile or so from Bush’s.
The 60 or so guests paid up to $32,400 for dinner. Not a Bush fan in the house, I’m guessing. And — also a guess — at least a few who continue to blame him for everything.
Nevetheless, Obama chose to go positive about his predecessor.
“One of the things I will insist upon is that whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves its people … and was concerned about all people in America, not just some, not just those who voted Republican,” he said to told fellow Democrats who paid a bunch of money to hear him say it.
He wrapped up with a bit of political unorthodoxy, saying, “Occasionally, I may make some of you angry because I am going to reach out to Republicans. … Even if some of you guys think I’m a sap, I will keep on doing it because I think that’s what the country needs.”
At the Thursday dedication, Obama said about Bush: “To know the man is to like the man, because he’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. He doesn’t put on any pretenses. He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
“He is a good man,” Obama said.
Near the top of his speech, Bush responded with kindness.
“I am very grateful to President Obama and Michelle for making this trip,” he said. “Unlike the other presidents here, he’s actually got a job. Mr. President, thank you for your kind words and for leading this nation we all love.”
Fine moments, or phony ones? After all, what else are presidents and ex-presidents supposed to say about each other at the dedication of a presidential library?
I choose to believe these kinds of events are American politics’ finest moments, moments of sincerity in an often insincere political world.
We’d be in even worse shape than we are if the folks at the top rung of the political ladders didn’t respect each other despite their differences. I’m concerned that there’s not that kind of respect among congressional leaders, but I believe there’s something about the shared experience of sitting in the Oval Office that elevates members of that exclusive club to a better place.
It’s often said that America deserves leaders as good as its people. When it comes to putting the proper tone on political discourse, I hope our people can do it as well as the leaders we saw on stage here Thursday.
“Ultimately the success of a nation depends on the character of its citizens,” Bush said.
The current level of political discourse from some of those citizens — on all sides and edges of the spectrum — dangerously challenges that success.