If you thought the transition from Republican President George Bush to Democratic President Barack Obama was lovey-dovey, think again: the Bush team is reportedly angry over Obama’s inaugural address that they felt dissed Bush by sharply criticizing the Texan and not showing him the respect they feel he deserved even though he was gracious to Obama.
The New York Times report also contains a blunt response from the Obama side. And it raises several issues underlying issues:
*The election results and the large number of Republicans who abandoned ship made it clear that a huge number of Americans were extremely unhappy about over the Bush administration and sought change. Should an incoming President articulate what voters said at the polls (and what pundits including many top Republican pundits said after the election)? Or should he avoid the issue or downplay widespread dissatisfaction?
*Is the transition period right after an election up until the inaugural a time to defuse disagreements and just implement new policies, or should a new President restate the case he made to win the office in the first place to solidify the support he’ll need to start policy implimentation?
*Is it unseemly for a new President to articulate the reason why he and voters believe he is there? Bush talked in his inaugural address about restoring character to the White House. Who was the President before him who was accused of having questionable character due to extra curricular activities in the White House? Could Bush associates criticizing Obama for criticizing his predecessor in his inaugural address be a case of the pot calling the pot a pot? The Times notes it was not perceived or painted as such at the time.
*If an outgoing President is nice to an incoming President, should the new President downplay sharp policy differences as a thank you for being treated nicely? Should personal interaction influence how and whether serious issues are raised in public?
The Times reports:
The Bush team had worked assiduously to make the transition smooth for the incoming President Obama and stayed out of the way as he used the postelection period to take leadership of the economy even before being sworn in. And now, as far as some of them were concerned, the new president had used his inaugural lectern to give the back of the hand to a predecessor who had been nothing but gracious to him.
“There were a few sharp elbows that really rankled and I felt were not as magnanimous as the occasion called for,” Karen Hughes, a longtime Bush confidante, said in an interview. “He really missed an opportunity to be as big as the occasion was and, frankly, as gracious as President Bush was as he left office.”
By all accounts, Hughes is 100 percent correct.
Bush was highly gracious in his press conferences and in the cooperation he extended to Obama. The question is whether that personal good will trumped the serious policy differences that propelled Obama to win the highest office — and whether Obama could afford to paper over how he sees the stark differences between his administration’s goals and the Bush administration’s goals.
The Obama team was quick to respond, the Times reports:
But that did not mean that Mr. Obama was not intent on signaling a sharp break from his predecessor, and on Thursday his aides fired back at Mr. Bush’s advisers for complaining.
“On both style and substance,” said Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, the new president is “turning the page.”
Mr. Emanuel mocked Bush advisers for bristling at the message of the Inaugural Address. “If they didn’t know that was the judgment of people, then their subscription to the newspapers were canceled over the last three years,” he said.
The Times notes several instances in the address where Obama was sharply critical of Bush.
He criticized “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” He promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” He rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” He assured the rest of the world “that we are ready to lead once more.”
According to the Times, experts say this was the first time since FDR took over from GOPer Herbert Hoover that a new President so sharply dissed a recently-ex-President in the big speech. And, notably, the Times piece says Bush told Emanuel it was a great speech and hadn’t complained to his associates about it. Moreover, some Bushies had no problem with it. This quote from former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who can’t be accused of being a disloyal Bush supporter:
Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, said, “I didn’t take umbrage” because, after all, Mr. Obama won on a promise “to make a break from the Bush years.”
And others? Karl Rove and some others are pushing back, defending Bush. (Expect upcoming Rove’s book to be finger pointing in all directions except the former President.)
But what the Times doesn’t cover as Bush advisers are accusing Obama of not being classy is the near hatefest raging on conservative talk radio these days. Some four hours Thursday of listening while traveling to various radop shows involved listening to a collection of local and national hosts make these classy, gracious comments about the guy from the other party who defeated the candidate they supported and about the new President’s party:
–Obama is “arrogant.” (You haven’t heard the word “arrogant” used much, against Bush, or Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton).
–Obama is a wannabe dictator.
–No one has issued as many executive orders as Obama; he is out of control and backed by a liberal Democratic majority in Congress that will let him do anything he wants.
–Obama is irresponsible for closing Guantanamo.
–Obama not letting the press tape his reswearing in ceremony proves that his claims of having a more transparent government are a lie, just as liberals and Democrats always lie.
–America is heading towards a socialist government under Obama.
–Democrats are tax cheats (referring to Caroline Kennedy and her alleged tax issues) and child molesters (referring to a mother who had her toddler say anti-Bush statements in a video run online).
–You could tell Obama was stuck on himself and it was all about him when you watched him dance.
–Republicans have to learn to fight dirty like the Democrats and Obama.
FOOTNOTE: Arizona Senator John McCain is under intense fire on many these talk shows due to his comments about Obama, Obama honoring him at a dinner, and indications that McCain will work with Obama on key issues.