I never thought I would miss President George W. Bush, our 43rd president, and I’ve never thought of him as a great, or even a good speaker. However, the speech he gave at a conference convened by the George W. Bush Institute was simply eloquent, excellent, thoughtful and compelling.
After keeping a low profile for the past eight years, he spoke up to decry the fact that “bigotry seems emboldened.”
Bush said, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”
Why did George W. Bush choose to speak so forcefully, in a speech that did not mention “45,” but was at least partly directed at him? Perhaps, it was the violent protests in Charlottesville; he and his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, issued a joint statement denouncing White supremacists, something that it took “45” forever to do. The younger Bush was blunt when he said, “Bigotry or White supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
I knew that I would miss President Barack Obama (44). Like his predecessor, he has kept a low profile since leaving office, stepping out very briefly to campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and to reflect on the challenges we face in our democracy. Like President Bush, President Obama did not refer to “45” by name, but his speech in Virginia was a repudiation of virtually everything that our prevaricating current president stands for.
“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed,” said Obama. “That has folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!”
Seemingly scolding the current administration, Obama said, “Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up, because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.”
Watching Presidents Bush and Obama reminded me of how far the quality of our nation’s leadership has fallen. I saw two men who, with absolute class, reminding us of our nation’s values and everything that is repugnant about the current administration. The contrast is the persistent crassness of “45,” an ill spoken, bumbling, coarse, and classless individual. He never met a fight he could not pick and escalate, never met an opposing viewpoint he could not demonize. He has belittled everyone he has disagreed with, from his own inner circle to football players he does not even know, calling them “sons of bitches.”
In his entire eight years of service, President Obama never disparaged his predecessor, President George W. Bush, even as he cleaned up some of his messes. In his several months of leadership, “45” has missed no opportunity to criticize President Obama. If I had a dollar for every time President Obama critiqued President Bush, I’d barely have enough money for a fast-food meal. If I had a dollar for every time “45” disparaged President Obama, I could dine at the nation’s best restaurants for a full week!