W: A Class Act

That’s not sarcasm. I think George W. Bush is a decent man who has treated his opponents with far more respect than most have ever shown him.

Yesterday, President-Elect Barack Obama visited the White House. Obama’s entire campaign revolved around one basic message, namely that President Bush’s presidency had been a failure and that he (Obama) represented the best agent for change. Every poll shows Bush is extremely unpopular and Obama’s strategy, as amply demonstrated by his convincing victory, was a rather wise (if obvious) one.

Still, given the message of that campaign, one would have understood if President Bush had been a bit lukewarm, or merely cordial, when the President-elect stopped by. But instead, as even the generally-liberal Associated Press concedes here, Bush has gone out of his way to be graceful. As the AP article notes:

Never mind that Democrat Barack Obama spent all that time deriding Bush for “failed policies,” or mocking him for hiding in an “undisclosed location” because he was too unpopular to show up with his party’s own candidate, John McCain. This is transition time. Outgoing presidents support the new guy. And on that front, Bush is going well beyond the minimum. He has embraced the role of statesman with such gusto that it has been hard to miss…Mere hours after Obama handily ended eight years of Republican rule, Bush commended Americans for making history. “They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story — a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation,” Bush said.

If that effusiveness wasn’t enough, he called Obama’s win an inspiring moment and said it will be a “stirring sight” when the whole Obama family arrives.

Then Bush called together about 1,000 employees on the South Lawn and told them to embrace the transition earnestly. This could have been handled in a press release, or even an internal memo to staff. Instead, it was a big, showy expression of support for Obama, with Bush’s Cabinet standing behind him.

“The peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy,” Bush said. “And ensuring that this transition is as smooth as possible is a priority for the rest of my presidency.”

In case anyone missed the point, Bush underscored it in his Saturday radio address. He pledged an “unprecedented effort” to help Obama take power.

Obama’s team is noticing. “So far, cooperation has been excellent,” said transition chief John Podesta, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s White House.

If you are tempted to think that all administrations act this way, let me remind you of the waning days of the Clinton administration, when outgoing staffers decided to vandalize the White House, by, among other classy acts, pulling the letter W off computer keyboards. (Of course, the real outrage of the last days of the Clinton White House was the flat-out bribery that occurred with the sale of Presidential pardons.)

The fact is that George W. Bush has never stooped to the level of his opponents. You can scour the record, and you will never find him using the type of language against his political opponents which his opponents have used against him. Want some examples?

Harry Reid, the most powerful Democrat in the government at the time, dismissed President Bush as a “liar” and a “loser.” Classy! President Bush, even at the height of his popularity and his political triumphs in 2002 and 2004 never used such language to describe Mr. Reid or any other Democratic leader.

Reid’s predecessor, Tom Daschle, was similarly graceless. In March of 2003, literally as American troops were in the air and about to touch down inside Iraq, a time when Americans should have been uniting behind our troops, Daschle attributed the war not to Saddam Hussein’s intransigence, or the UN’s fecklessness, or his own failure to convince his own caucus to vote against the war resolution, but rather to President Bush having “failed… miserably.” Classy all the way!

And here, in my favorite ad of this year’s entire campaign cycle, is democratic Senate candidate (and possible recount winner) Al Franken showing just how much hate and anger he has for his opponents. Notice how many words have to be bleeped out. More class!

The irony is that the same liberals who use such language against President Bush will often then turn around and say that the President is the “divisive” one. How’s that again? President Bush states his admittedly controversial positions without calling anyone names, his opponents respond by saying he is a “liar” and a “loser” and “miserable” and a few F-bombs too, but Bush is somehow the divisive one? Are you serious?

I am not saying that this applies to all of the President’s many critics, but in many cases it’s clear we are just dealing with very bitter and insecure people who have chosen to blame President Bush, as exemplar of the status quo, for their own unhappy existence. In this camp I place people like Rosie O’Donnell and Alec Baldwin and Janeane Garofolo and Roseanne Barr. All are successful but obviously angry people who have a track record of being unable to get along with pretty much anyone – Garofalo couldn’t even get along with her co-host on Air America, even though nobody was listening. I am not a shrink, but come on, this is a person with obvious and deep personal insecurities having nothing to do with politics.

To be sure, part of the anti-Bush anger stemmed from the manner in which he became president- he lost the popular vote, and only became president after a very controversial Supreme Court decision. Under those circumstances, I can understand a less-than-welcoming response by his opponents.

And from a policy standpoint, disagreement and even anger over the Iraq war is perfectly fair.

We are politically divided- but to the extent the atmosphere has been a divisive one, it is the President’s opponents, and not the President, who have employed the language of division.

Bottom line: President Bush has shown his opponents far more respect than they have shown him. And that class was demonstrated again at the White House yesterday.

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