The president’s ‘eternal foil’?

THE PRESIDENT’S ‘ETERNAL FOIL’?…. In his new column yesterday, National Review‘s Rich Lowry slams President Obama for investing too much time in condemning his predecessor. There are a few problems with the argument.

Republicans needn’t trouble themselves to nominate a presidential candidate in 2012. No matter what, Pres. Barack Obama will be running against George W. Bush.

Bush will be Obama’s eternal foil. At this rate, when Obama writes his post-presidential memoir, it will be titled: An Audacious Presidency, or How I Saved America from That Bastard Bush. His presidential library will have a special fright-house wing devoted to Bush’s misrule. He will mutter in his senescence about 43, like the Ancient Mariner about his albatross.

Obama clearly wants Bush to be the Hoover to his FDR. Since his predecessor left office with 34 percent job approval, Obama understandably feels moved to scorn and berate him. But Obama’s perpetual campaign against Bush is graceless, whiny, and tin-eared. Must the leader of the free world — if Obama still accepts that quaint formulation — always reach for the convenient excuse?

To bolster his case about Obama’s constant, graceless whining about Bush, Lowry pointed to exactly zero examples. The column didn’t include a single instance of the president blaming his predecessor for anything — not even one quote showing Obama “scorning” or “berating” George W. Bush. Lowry added that President Obama “impugns his immediate predecessor with classless regularity,” and backed that up with absolutely nothing.

If these cheap and ugly attacks were so common, shouldn’t Lowry point to one or two to make his case? Something?

The reason, I suspect, that Lowry levies the charge with evidence is that there is none. Lowry has it backwards — Obama has shown considerable restraint about blaming the previous administration for the crises and fiascos it left for the nation to overcome.

Last night, for example, the president delivered a couple of partisan, campaign-style speeches at DNC receptions in New York. The combined total of references to “Bush,” “my predecessor,” the “previous administration,” etc. was zero. Obama talked about the challenges we’re all dealing with, but even in partisan speeches to partisan audiences, he didn’t mention the failed recent president at all. Obama made an oblique reference to “what was waiting for us when we began this presidency,” but if Lowry thinks that constitutes graceless, classless scorn, his rhetorical standards need reevaluation.

Lowry referenced the president’s get-a-mop speech in San Francisco last week, when Obama mentioned efforts to clean up “somebody else’s mess,” but again, this is indirect, circuitous rhetoric. To hear Lowry tell it, the president can barely go a day without using George W. Bush as some kind of pinata. This has no basis in reality.

I’m of the opinion that President Obama doesn’t blame Bush nearly enough. Bush really is a Hoover for modern times. Nearly every single problem this administration has faced, and continues to face, stems from Bush’s failures, incompetence, and mismanagement. The moment President Obama was sworn in, he had to deal with an economy in free fall, soaring unemployment, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, a health care system in crisis, a housing crisis, a looming global warming catastrophe, two costly wars, an enormous budget deficit, a $10 trillion debt, a pessimistic electorate, a Guantanamo fiasco, and a global landscape in which the United States had lost much of its global prestige.

And even under these circumstances, Obama bites his lip, refrains from blaming Bush, and rolls up his sleeves to clean up the mess(es) he inherited. Lowry has it backwards.