Since the end of the Bush administration, rumors have swirled about the relationship between the former president and his VP. The catalyst was supposedly Bush’s failure to pardon Scooter Libby, which reportedly angered Dick Cheney and eventually forced George Bush to stop taking his calls in the final days. This may be playing out in a subtle fashion as the two men take very different approaches towards the new administration, as Bush may have given a not-so-subtle dig at Cheney’s outspoken criticisms of Barack Obama:
Former President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that he won’t criticize Barack Obama because the new U.S. president “deserves my silence,” and said he plans to write a book about the 12 toughest decisions he made in office.
Bush declined to critique the Obama administration in his first speech since leaving office in January. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that Obama’s decisions threatened America’s safety.
“I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena,” Bush said. “He deserves my silence.”
And Bush may not have limited his scope to just his former partner in the executive branch:
Bush said he wants Obama to succeed and said it’s important that he has that support. Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has said he hoped Obama would fail.
“I love my country a lot more than I love politics,” Bush said. “I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”
Without going all the way back into the entire I-want-Obama-to-fail meme, one can square what Rush said to what Bush says here. We’d certainly like to help our country succeed by getting Obama to abandon his statist policies and dramatically increased growth in government. If we can help him do that, well, sign me up, too. To the extent that he pursues bad policy, I hope he fails to get them implemented, because I think they will hurt the nation and weaken us economically, diplomatically, and militarily.
The “silence” comment, though, seems directly aimed at Cheney. Most presidents and retired vice-presidents refrained from publicly criticizing their successors, at least until Jimmy Carter practically made a career out of it, even with fellow Democrat Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton for the most part kept his tongue until his wife ran for the presidency, beginning in 2007. Bush’s father adhered to the tradition, as did Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and so on. Even when campaigning for political allies, former presidents avoided frontal combat with current White House residents, remaining focused instead on the candidates they championed.
The tradition may be less clear with VPs. Al Gore certainly never adhered to that principle, making ridiculously emotional speeches about Bush after losing to him in the 2000 election. Walter Mondale offered criticisms in more of a political-analysis context until he had to briefly run as Paul Wellstone’s replacement. Dan Quayle criticized Clinton and his policies as he attempted to build a conservative power base. Cheney’s comments about Obama making America less safe most closely approximate Gore’s “He BETRAYED us!” schtick in tenor, if not in volume or burst facial capillaries.
Is Bush sending a message to his former partner to get back into tradition? Or is he just informing us that he has retired from the partisan game and intends on allowing others to provide the political analysis from now on? It could be either, but I’m betting it’s both.