The last Republican president before Donald Trump was George W. Bush, and he sucked. Bush left office in 2009 so if you're 12 or younger, you still have no excuse for thinking he was a good president. However, people couldn't stop gushing this weekend over a feel-good COVID-19 PSA Bush released.

George W. Bush calls for care and compassion during pandemic www.youtube.com

The video is fine. There are children, flags, and old people. It's a simple America where we all like each other. Bush declared that we are not “partisan combatants" but are “human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God." That's a charming sentiment but it's not the reality of the COVID-19 struggle, which is breaking down along partisan lines — primarily thanks to Republicans who are attacking Democratic leaders for owning fancy refrigerators. Bush himself didn't make such noble claims after 9/11 when he said you're “either with us or against us." Conservatives applauded his cowboy diplomacy.


Former presidents exist in a glossy realm of nostalgia — unless you're Barack Obama, whom Fox News still actively loathes. And weren't we all younger and able to leave the house during Bush's presidency? What great times those were! W. has transitioned now from Dick Cheney's White House intern to Michelle Obama's BFF. I'm OK with that. We don't have to dwell in the past but we also shouldn't whitewash relatively recent history

“Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski claimed this morning that the video reminded people what it was like to have a president who was “competent." She wasn't talking about Obama or Bill Clinton but George W. Bush, who was objectively incompetent. Almost 190,000 people died in Iraq because Bush invaded the wrong country and lied about the threat it posed. The Iraq War cost $6 trillion, even with the manufacturer's discount, so Republicans can shut up forever about the coronavirus stimulus.

Although it’s a popular conservative pastime to blame Bill Clinton for the 9/11 attacks, Bush was actually president on September 11, 2001, and he received warnings about a potential terrorist attack on the US as early as the spring. (The geniuses in his administration believed Osama bin Laden was just “pretending” to plan an attack to “distract” them from Saddam Hussein, the true threat.) This is the “competence” Brzezinski thinks we’re missing in our lives.

Bush was also affirmatively terrible with natural disasters. We shouldn't forget his half-assed Hurricane Katrina response. He claimed that no one "anticipated the breach of the levees" in New Orleans, but he ignored warnings they wouldn't withstand the storm. These are also the comforting words he gave while a great American city lay in ruins:

We got a lot of rebuilding to do.... The good news is and it's hard for some to see it now but out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast... Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house — the guy lost his entire house — there's going to be fantastic house. I look forward to sitting on the porch. Out of New Orleans is going to come that great city again.

No, that's not a Trump quote.

Sure, Bush isn't openly an asshole like Trump. He didn't insult and defame random people on Twitter and probably not just because Twitter wasn't a big thing at the time. In 2000, then-candidate Bush did call New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a “major league asshole" on a hot mic and didn't actually apologize for it.

When his aides were questioned about the "asshole" comment, rather than offering the candidate's apologies for what he had said, they instead defended the remark, attributing it to justifiable ire over particular items Clymer had written about Bush's career as Governor of Texas. "There's been a series of articles [by Clymer] that the governor has felt have been very unfair," said Bush's communications director, Karen Hughes.

One of Trump's biggest failings is that he's his own picture of Dorian Gray. He doesn't preserve a pristine public face while delegating his more corrupt, underhanded dealings to a Roy Cohn, Lee Atwater, or Karl Rove. Bush was able to remain above the fray even while John Kerry was swiftboated or Iraq War protester Cindy Sheehan was smeared as a crackpot. Bush himself now works behind the scenes — he actively lobbied for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Brzezinski is practically a Republican who's ready to call the manager on any Democrat. Her Bush boosting isn't a shock, but supposed liberals were crying over Bush's video like it was a 1980s long-distance commercial.

Girlfriend, what are you doing! Bush ran a TORTURE! vacation spot for people who were possibly, maybe, terrorists — or else the victims of a neighbor's grudge. Former Rep. Katie Hill later conceded that the Bush years were a horror show, and she's torn up over the fact that Republicans subjected us to someone even worse. The answer to Trump, though, isn't a Republican who hides their evil more effectively.

Hill is probably right that many Americans would “feel better" if Bush were president right now. He might not functionally do a better job but he'd come across superficially more benign. I want more than superficial, so I'd use my genie's wish to retroactively eliminate the Electoral College so Hillary Clinton was president all along. Things should never get so bad that we'd long for any Republican president, especially George W. Bush.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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