Obama to welcome Bush back ‘home’
PRESIDENT Barack Obama on Thursday will halt his attacks on George W Bush’s legacy to welcome his predecessor back to the White House in a rare return to the spotlight for the former US leader.
Bush and his wife Laura will return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for lunch and the unveiling of their official portraits, in an honour accorded to all former presidents and first ladies.
He will be joined by another former president, his father George H W Bush senior, in office between 1989 and 1993, and his wife Barbara and members of his family and administration at the ceremony in the White House East Room.
The meeting will come at a delicate moment, as Obama is basing part of his reelection campaign on the conceit that Bush’s eight years in the White House harmed America at home and abroad.
Though he rarely attacks Bush by name, Obama conjures up a dire picture of his legacy, seeking to tie it to the kind of policies Democrats say Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney would pursue if he wins November’s election.
At a campaign event in California last week, Obama mentioned a “record surplus” squandered on tax cuts for the rich, and two wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan but not paid for by the previous administration. “A shrinking number of Americans did really, really well, but a growing number saw falling incomes and stagnant job growth and rising costs for everything from college to health care.
“We built a house of cards, and it ended up collapsing in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, (we) lost three million jobs while we were campaigning; 800,000 jobs lost the month I took office.” The pageantry and protocol of events like on Thursday’s, however have a way of papering over political acrimony, and there is precedent for presidents who were former sworn enemies to become close in later life.
When Clinton welcomed his former election foe Bush senior back to the White House for his portrait unveiling, he simply said “welcome home,” and praised his “basic integrity and decency” and a lifetime devoted to public service.
George W Bush returned the favour when Clinton returned in 2004 despite slamming his presidency when he was running for the office four years before and promising to restore “honour and dignity” to the White House.
“Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency,” Bush said.
“He filled this house with energy and joy. He’s a man of enthusiasm and warmth, who could make a compelling case and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service.” Obama and Bush may also find some common ground, not least because many analysts believe, despite White House denials, that the current president has adopted some of his predecessor’s tactics to combat terrorism.
The president also on occasion, has praised Bush for having the courage to lead an ultimately unsuccessful bid to pass comprehensive immigration reform to bring more than 10 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows.
Bush was last at the White House in January 2010 when he joined up with Clinton to lead an Obama initiative to raise funds and relief for earthquake-stricken Haiti.
Bush has lived up to his vow to disappear from public life when he left the White House in 2009, to catcalls from thousands of Obama supporters as his helicopter flew over the National Mall after the new president’s inauguration.
He rarely intervenes in the political arguments of the day, contenting himself with the building of his presidential library and the Bush Centre in Dallas which will focus on human rights and freedom.
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted there would be no hard feelings on show, from Obama’s side at least, saying that the few men who had both experienced the loneliness of office had much to share.
“There’s not a lot of need to talk about where they differ,” Carney said Wednesday.
“There are differences there without question between his approach and the approach and the policies of his predecessor,” Carney said.
“(But) I think there is a community here with very few members that transcends political and policy differences.” The Bushes return to the presidential mansion a few weeks after the publication of a new book examining the fraternity that exists between retired US commanders- in-chief.