The Low Bar For Great Exhortations: W vs. Obama

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Drudge is in a twist. Huffington Post is atwitter. The last president, George W. Bush, we are told, “slams” and “attacks” the current president. Big news, right? Especially big because Bush has been doing such a good job of not pulling a Cheney up to now.

But once we click through the headlines, what do we find? A Washington Times story that has a bunch of mildly cool quotes from the former president, delivered on Wednesday in Erie, Penn. In the first set of quotes Bush claims:

I know it’s going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we’re in. . . .Government does not create wealth. The major role for the government is to create an environment where people take risks to expand the job rate in the United States.

Now before we call this a “Slaming Smackdown Super-Wallop Attack,” let’s breathe. Would Obama or his economic advisers disagree with any of these statements? I don’t think so. It’s basically what they have been saying. Though like Bush last year, they also argue that government must intervene in crises to prevent total collapse.

Bush also says, “You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money,” an old Republican electoral cliche, which Obama has worked hard to render less relevant. Remember, Obama is pushing through major tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans for the foreseeable future, a decision which is one of the reasons we will soon find ourselves in an unsustainable fiscal mess. (Read about it here.) Now this line could be read as suggesting that Obama is keeping too much tax money, or it could be seen as a bland restatement of political identity. It’s one thing for a Red Sox fan to wear a Red Sox cap. It’s quite another for him to call Alex Rodriguez a philandering poser who cheated his way to the top.

At another point in the talk, Bush says: “I told you I’m not going to criticize my successor. . . . I’ll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at a drop of a hat and I don’t believe that — persuasion isn’t going to work. Therapy isn’t going to cause terrorists to change their mind.”

This is a bit more critical, but only indirectly. It reads as a non sequitur that ends with a red herring. Has Obama announced a plan to give Al Qaeda leadership at Guantanamo therapy as a prerequisite to release? Didn’t Bush begin the process of reviewing release of Guantanamo detainees? Isn’t it more likely that Bush is just trading his old talking points for speaking fees, trying to burnish his own tough-guy image without exactly challenging the authority of the new guy? Whatever it is, we need not dust off the ex-president/new-president wrestling ring. A slam, it is not. Unless you can slam with a feather duster.

Though it is enough for the blogs and the cable networks. So get ready for lots of gabbing. Did Bush go too far? one host will ask, teeing up another hollow Wiffle Ball for the pundits to wack around.