Since George W. Bush left office in early 2009 with a rock-bottom approval rating and the nation in the midst of a financial crisis, Republicans don’t like to talk about the last time they held the White House.
In a recent profile of Paul Ryan before he became the vice-presidential nominee, Ryan distanced himself from that era, saying he was “miserable during the last majority” and is determined “to do everything I can to make sure I don’t feel that misery again.” In the 2012 election, Republicans have been largely silent on the former president.
But on the second night of the Republican National Convention, the party began to let Bush out of his cage, ever so slowly, by paying tentative tribute to the 43rd president.
First, the convention showed a video in which Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush reminisced about their time in office. But they kept it lighthearted, sidestepping all of the many landmines the younger Bush’s presidency still holds for Republicans. The Bushes joked about comedian Dana Carvey and the first time Vladimir Putin of Russia visited the White House.
Barbara Bush and Laura Bush talked about how George W. Bush will be remembered: “courageous,” and “honorable” for seeing the country through the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Bush White House’s role after Sept. 11 came up again when the crowd gave a warm, rousing reception to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“This young century has been a difficult one,” Rice said. “I can remember as if it was yesterday when [my] assistant came into my office at the White House to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and then, a second plane, and then a third plane, the Pentagon, and later, we would learn that a plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, driven into the ground by brave souls who died so that others might live.”
But Rice’s speech, which focused largely on foreign policy, similarly didn’t go into much detail about her time in the Bush administration.
Rob Portman, a former Bush administration official, was welcomed warmly at the convention. But he didn’t talk about his time as Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, though he did try to absolve Bush of blame for the economy. “Where is the president’s economic plan? Blaming others does not qualify as a plan,” Portman said.
Paul Ryan also called on Obama to stop blaming Bush: “the story that Barack Obama does tell, forever shifting blame to the last administration, is getting old. The man assumed office almost four years ago — isn’t it about time he assumed responsibility?”
And the Bush years will likely come up again on Thursday, the final day of the convention, when Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, will speak.
Of course, Democrats welcome a rehash of George W. Bush’s presidency. President Obama often mentions his predecessor on the trail and blames him for the rough economy he inherited. And Democrats are constantly drawing parallels between Romney Bush. Romney’s policies represent a return to the Bush years, Obama insists: “It didn’t work then, it won’t work now,” Obama likes to say.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.