SOMETHING BUSH DID RIGHT — AND CAN DO RIGHT AGAIN…. Last week, Paul Waldman, whose regard for George W. Bush is identical to mine, raised a good point about one of the admirable qualities of the failed former president.

…Bush actually went out of his way to repeat that America was not at war with Islam as a whole, only with certain radical elements engaged in terrorism. It seemed like the most obvious thing in the world — first, because it’s plainly true, and secondly, because the idea that America is as war with Islam is exactly what Al Qaeda wants people to believe. It’s central to their recruiting efforts. […]

[T]oday, the question of whether an Islamic cultural center will be built in lower Manhattan has brought out a whole bunch of ugliness from the right…. Who would have thought Bush would start looking moderate and reasonable?

For all of Bush’s many, many faults, he was generally quite responsible when it came to these issues. Even when his base embraced the ugliest bigotry and demagoguery, the former president resisted such talk, took the high ground, and showed genuine respect for diversity and religious freedom. Bush could have very easily slipped into the same discriminatory swamp, and to his credit, he chose not to.

But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, Bush’s political allies — Gingrich, Palin, Cheney, Giuliani, et al — aren’t following his example, especially as it involves a proposed Muslim community center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. Yesterday, noting the Republican hysteria over the Cordoba House, Kevin Drum took a similar to line to Waldman: “For once, I really do miss George Bush. The damage he did to the American cause in the Muslim world is incalculable, but at least he never countenanced this kind of lunatic bigotry. Are there any Republican leaders left today who can say the same? Anyone willing to just quietly and frankly defend traditional American notions of religious freedom and traditional American notions of tolerance and decency?”

So far, no. There are no Republican grown-ups willing to step up and say, “Enough. This is wrong. We’re better than this.”

Of course, Bush took a responsible approach in office, and as Matt Yglesias noted this morning, he could do the same again.

[H]ere’s the thing: George W Bush isn’t dead. He’s alive and well. If he wanted to stand alongside Mayor Bloomberg and do a press conference, I’m sure people would pay attention. Perhaps he’s observing a kind of ex-presidential courtesy and staying out of things. But Dick Cheney hasn’t shied away from inserting himself into political controversies. He could stand up for old fashioned Bush-Cheney values of start lots of wars but steer clear of explicit anti-Muslim bigotry. But he doesn’t want to. Nor does his daughter Liz. Karl Rove was the architect of the Bush administration’s messaging and I see him on Fox News all the time. He, too, could stand up for the approach to conservatism we remember from the Bush era. But he doesn’t want to either.

Now why is that? I couldn’t quite say. But at a minimum it’s indicative that they don’t have a very strong commitment to either the principle of non-discrimination or the strategic conceit that the conservative vision of a “war on terror” is something other than a civilizational struggle with Muslims.

I’ll cut Dick Cheney some slack — the guy is still in the hospital with heart problems — but Matt’s larger point is a good one. It would take some political character for Bush and his team to step up now and denounce a GOP line they deliberately avoided while in office. Why not show some courage and do the right thing now?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.