This morning, the Boston Globe has a rather interesting op-ed column. “Interesting,” as in “far funnier than the author intended.”
In that piece, the aptly-named Joshua Green proposes a way former president George W. Bush can help serve his nation: by becoming a leading proponent of “green energy.”
This comes on the heels of recent calls for him to speak out in defense of the Ground Zero Mosque.
This is so foolish on so many ways, I don’t think I can do it justice.
The first is the motivations for these calls. It’s based on several presumptions, all of which laughably wrong.
The first is that President Bush has some bank of credibility and good will and blind support that continues to this day. That a lot of his former supporters (myself included) still respect and appreciate the guy, that’s strictly limited to the man himself. It’s not something he can transfer to others or causes.
The second is that Bush needs “redeeming.” Think about that — for about ten years, he’s been utterly demonized by those now beseeching him for help. “Yes, we know we’ve called you all sorts of names and blamed you for everything under the sun, but now it’s time you accepted all that blame and listened to us and helped us out achieve our goals.”
The third is that Bush has any interest in being “redeemed” by his enemies. He seems to embrace the philosophy that “living well is the best revenge,” and seems content to live out his life quietly.
But the most entertaining part of Green’s piece is his opening paragraph, where he spells out his rationale for his following thesis:
MODERN PRESIDENTS don’t retire — instead, they embark on their post-presidency. Society demands that they take up some cause greater than themselves, as Jimmy Carter has done by building houses for Habitat for Humanity and Bill Clinton by working to stop the global spread of AIDS. The idea is to devote their time and celebrity to a worthier purpose than simply buffing their image for the history books, but a post-presidency properly pursued has exactly that effect.
President Obama is the 43rd man to serve as president. Of the prior 42, six died in office. And of the remaining 36, only five have had prominent post-presidencies. Besides the two most recent Democrats, John Quincy Adams returned to the House of Representatives (where he was a fierce enemy of slavery). Andrew Johnson spent four months in the Senate before dying. And Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
For the vast majority of our history, though, former presidents were content to quietly retire, maybe write their memoirs. They were supposed to absent themselves from public life. In fact, that was why we established presidential pensions — to keep former presidents from having to worry about their own future and security while in office.
I’m just old enough to remember how, right after leaving office, President Reagan gave a speech in Japan for which he was quite handsomely compensated — and it was considered a scandal.
Up until then, ex-presidents were fairly quickly forgotten. Jimmy Carter had yet to, as P. J. O’Rourke put it, take up pounding on poor people’s houses with a hammer until they came out and told him to knock it off. Gerald Ford was happy on the links. Richard Nixon was writing books and serving as a quiet counsel to those in power who sought his advice.
Prior to then, Lyndon Johnson went home to his ranch. Eisenhower and Truman also went home.
No, it’s only since Jimmy Carter decided to set down his hammer (to the relief of poor people everywhere, who finally got some peace and quiet) and engage in his own “freelance diplomacy” — in complete disregard with tradition, law, and common sense.
Once the floodgates were broken (with Carter’s trips to North Korea and the Middle East, causing problems and headaches for the professionals, it suddenly became easier for Bill Clinton to step back into the limelight and get back into the political fray.
On the other hand, the first President Bush has stayed happily retired — except when called upon to once more serve his country by helping with Haitian relief and other humanitarian, non-partisan causes. Otherwise, he’s happy jumping out of airplanes and hanging around his house on the Maine coast.
President George W. Bush has the pretty-much obligatory post-presidential book coming out soon. He’ll probably do a few carefully-chosen interviews to push it, but other than that he’ll likely go back to living quietly — occasionally showing up to greet returning troops and other low-key, unannounced actions like that.
He almost certainly will not stick his nose into the fray regarding the Ground Zero Mosque, and would have almost no interest in becoming Al Gore’s acolyte and pushing the bogus “green energy” program. He’s got better things to do.
Which, by definition, would be pretty much anything else.