appearances with Clinton on Sunday morning TV talk shows — was the
first tangible sign that Bush has made progress shifting his public
persona from late-night punch line to a more dignified pantheon.
If he has succeeded in turning around his poll
numbers from a year ago, observers say it’s largely because he has kept
a low profile and refused to lob bombshells at Obama with former Vice
“It can do nothing but help him and does nothing but add to his stature when compared to his vice president,” said
and an expert on presidential politics. “It does begin to put him in
the light of other former presidents who, the longer they’re out of
office, are looked at as having tried to do their best.”
To be sure, the anti-Bush ennui that gripped voters
a year ago has not entirely dissipated, particularly outside his
post-presidential comfort zone of
Aides say he has made 32 speeches and raised more than
Instead, he has waged a self-deprecating, street-level charm offensive that has been well received in red-state
He threw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’
home opener. He posed for cell phone photos with people he met on local
mountain-bike trails. And he took in the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff game
victory with owner
The scene is so welcoming the city already has a President
restaurants. They are country club Republicans in a bastion so
conservative it’s still possible to see “W” bumper stickers on the
Bush has not, however, made an endorsement in the heated Republican primary for
Many Democrats say Bush has been shrewd to refrain
from partisan politics. Longtime foes warn that he should not mistake
voter indifference for political forgiveness.
“By becoming somewhat invisible, he’s not there to
remind people what they didn’t like about his policies and the
consequences of his policies,” said
Locally, anti-Bush sentiment hasn’t generated much heat. A small group called the al-
named for the Iraqi shoe thrower whose boot famously whizzed by Bush’s
head, twice called for protests at meetings where Bush officials were
scheduled to discuss the presidential library. Both times, only a
handful of protesters showed up.
A larger crowd of about 50 people rallied in June, when war protester
But the event last summer, which was organized by
the Dallas Peace Center, drew mainly cold stares, car horns and Bush
supporters carrying their own signs.
Perhaps the biggest off-script moment for the Bushes came last February, just weeks after they moved back to
“Hey, kids, do you know who I am?” Bush asked the students.
“That’s right!” the former president said. “
But he will play a key role at the
The group will help shape
In the meantime, the former president may not mind having someone guard his reputation.
“I’m sure he appreciates it when others speak up to defend him,” said
Hughes, an executive with a global communications firm, still guides some of the
Longtime observers say Bush believes he will set the
record straight with his memoir, which will be released later this
year. He started writing it the day after he left office and is nearly
“I don’t think Bush is obsessed with being loved by Americans in the near term,” said
Still, Bush will probably win over fellow Texans quicker than he will anyone else, Draper said.
“There was a level of disdain for Bush that seemed
out of proportion to what he’d done. It was almost primal,” he said.
“There isn’t a lot in the way of nostalgia for Bush.”
however, Bush hasn’t hesitated to try to charm even such natural
adversaries as trial lawyers (his campaign for governor called for
limiting the amount of money that companies could be forced to pay if
they lose lawsuits).
last year to fend off a lawsuit filed by condo owners who claimed they
were rightful owners of some of the land for the Bush library.
Lanier, who got a surprise call from the former
president, said he is not a “Bushie,” but found the 43rd president to
be “charming and utterly personable.”
“When I answered the phone, I said, ‘I feel like I should sing “Hail to the Chief,” ‘ ” Lanier recalled.
He said Bush countered: “No, I’m not in office anymore. You only need to hum it.”
Lanier noted that
Bush’s decision to put the library at
two former ambassadors who served under him and a number of his biggest
political donors, including oilman
In the past year,
dollars to secure the final rights to the land for the library and to
fend off a lawsuit that at one point would have forced Bush to become
the first U.S. president to submit to questions in a state civil trial.
Meanwhile, on the public front,
When longtime political writer
her journalism students. He did it on the condition that his remarks
were off the record.
“He turned out to be very forthright and very personable,” said Barta, who first covered Bush when he ran for
The genteel reception Bush got at
Yoo, author of the memos that provided the legal
rationale for the Bush administration’s use of enhanced interrogation
techniques, faced an onslaught of protests and calls for his dismissal.
a petition while Bush was still in office, objecting to plans to
include a policy institute with the presidential library. They said it
would imply an endorsement of Bush policies, a far cry from housing a
Nevertheless, the library design calls for the
“I think it’s pretty well died down and been accepted as reality.”
(c) 2010, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.