During his presidency, he was decried as a false President, the man who ended Democracy in America. He was called a puppet, a moron, a bumpkin, and a whole lot worse by the people who worried that he allowed the erosion of the American dream. He oversaw the least popular war since Vietnam and a massive jump in unemployment. And that’s before you get to the fact that he and his cronies are responsible for the fact that you have to take your shoes off every time you step foot on a plane.
Every. Damn. Time.
By the time he left office in 2008, George W. Bush was considered one of the most unpopular modern presidents. Then, Donald Trump happened, and, suddenly, Bush’s time in the White House wasn’t looking so grimy. Compared to the sponge dipped in sewage that is Donald Trump, more people than ever see Dubya as one of the good ones, a representative of the days when Republicans (at least pretended) to pride themselves on diplomacy and bipartisanship.
It’s a title that the President known as Dubya deserves outright. The friendly rancher from Texas may have a troubling legacy in the White House, but he’s slowly turning into the coolest living former President.
He’s Always Known How to Work a Room
Regardless of what you think about Bush’s presidential performance, his IQ, or the notion that he was just the public face of a dark cabal of balding white men, you can’t deny George W. Bush is one charismatic bastard.
In her 2002 documentary Journeys With George, reporter Alexandra Pelosi (aka, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) strings together a series of home movies shot during the 2000 campaign when Dubya was a mere presidential hopeful. The portrait she paints is a man whose natural good humor charmed even The New York Times … before they went off about his bad table manners and supposedly phony demeanor.
Post-presidency, Dubya is proving that his Mayberry Cool isn’t an act. He’s genuine.
His Paintings Are Freaking Adorable
Post-presidency, Barack Obama hung out on a private island for a bit (after all, the man deserved a beach vacation). Bush, on the other hand, retired to his private ranch to play cowboy (again, a much-deserved vacation). When Obama emerged, it was to return to the political fight in the hopes of swaying a nation in desperate need of unification. When Bush well and truly re-emerged, it was to show off a series of paintings he’d crafted during his time off.
Yes, that sounds preposterous. Simple-minded cowboy paints world leaders and veterans in barn. The weird thing is, Dubya’s paintings are kind of good:
“I really enjoyed painting Churchill – I painted him with a lot of affection. I thought about the character of the man, his influence on history, and how much I admire him. I hope my paintings reflect that.“ – President George W. Bush on his three paintings of Winston Churchill pic.twitter.com/nLl6qal6Xl
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) June 27, 2018
The Washington Post’s chief art critic wrote of Bush’s 2017 book of portraits, “No matter what you think of George W. Bush, he demonstrates in this book and in these paintings virtues that are sadly lacking at the top of the American political pyramid today: curiosity, compassion, the commitment to learn something new and the humility to learn it in public.”
This is not the work of a man who spends his life actively manipulating the public into believing that he’s a simple man with simple tastes.
The Public Has a Short Memory
Hey, remember that laundry list of issues I mentioned up at the top? Yeah, nobody cares about that crap anymore. It’s so 2002 it may as well be a James Van Der Beek movie with a soundtrack by Nelly.
(Good luck getting that one out of your head.)
In 2012, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver published a blog in which he noted that voters have a spectacularly short memory. Obviously, that’s not news, even to the casual observer. On average, people not only forget the past, but they’re also actively opposed to dredging up the past even when someone is screaming facts in their face. How else do you explain the fact that a dick-pic-messaging douchebag using the alias “Carlos Danger” was able to launch three almost-successful political campaigns?
In a world where Trump stirs up daily scandals with just his iPhone and an inherent bias against reason, the public’s memory is getting shorter and shorter, and George W. Bush’s trespasses are looking less and less severe.
As much as we’re all looking forward to watching Christian Bale cartoon his way through the role of Dick Cheney in Vice, the only person still outraged over the sins committed during the Bush years is Adam McKay.
Dubya and the Charm Offensive
The flip side of the delightful, semi-retired coin is that George W. Bush is still a Republican. On a personal level, that’s not a problem, but the man still holds sway over a significant portion of the party and a growing number of Democrats and swing voters. As of January, the former president boasts a 66 percent approval rating among viewers. That’s nearly double the number of people who said Bush was doing things well at the time he left office.
Unlike Donald Trump who is, let’s say, “divisive” in his popularity, George W. Bush is an all-around likable guy who is finding himself more and more in demand as election day creeps closer. In the run-up to November, Dubya is putting in work raising money for GOP candidates at a series of fundraisers. In other words, the guy is great, but he’s still raising money for the party that props up old Donny J.
The Opposite of Partisanship
Okay, it’s easy to invoke Trump and get bogged down in the tooth-and-nail fight that is modern politics. Before we descend into the muck, though, let’s look to the friendship blossoming between Dubya and former First Lady Michelle Obama. On September 1, while attending the memorial service for Senator John McCain, George Bush was videotaped handing Michelle Obama a cough drop.
George W. Bush sneaking a piece of candy to Michelle Obama is warming my heart . pic.twitter.com/pAtDdIcSeB
— Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) September 1, 2018
The simple gesture exploded on social media, serving as a warm reminder of a United States where people from different political parties used to, you know, treat their ideological rival like real, actual people. When asked about her relationship with Dubya, Michelle Obama was effusive with her praise, calling the former president her “partner in crime.”
That’s a cute sound bite, but the best part of Obama’s statement came a few moments later when she stated, “Party doesn’t separate us. Color, gender, those sort of things don’t separate us.”
Jimmy Carter is the hippie. George HW Bush is the last real Reaganite. Bill Clinton is the cad. Barack Obama is the nerd. And George W. Bush is the resident Fonzie.
No matter the outcome of November 6, whether there’s a Blue Wave or a Red Tide, let that be George W. Bush’s post-White House legacy, that nothing is so severe we can’t sit back and talk it out with an open mind over a few non-alcoholic beers.