George W. Bush is back on U.S. television screens, thanks to an interview on ABC's This Week (7/7/13). He doesn't speak to the press much, but based on this fawning interview, he might want to re-consider.
At one point he and ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl joked about how presidents tend to get criticized–but "not from you of course, Jon." It was in jest–but also perfectly captured the tone of the piece, which was all about rehabilitating Bush's image.
The subject matter was Bush's ongoing charity work in Africa, which grew out of some of the policies he pursued in office, particular on combating AIDS.
"You're something of a rock star here," Karl told Bush. He went on to remark that Obama had called Bush's President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) policy "one of your crowning achievements. Do you agree with that?" Not exactly tough stuff.
Unsurprisingly, Karl didn't raise any of the criticisms made of PEPFAR, such as that it "wasted much of its funds on scientifically questionable programs designed to please American religious conservatives" (CBSNews.com, 2/25/08), or that its "abstinence-only approach to AIDS prevention" led to rising rates of infection in Uganda (Voice of America, 11/30/11).
And then there was this:
KARL: I know you're not into psychoanalysis. Some, these are your critics that say that all of this Africa work you're doing, that part of it is, you're trying to make up for mistakes you made in Iraq or –
BUSH: Oh yeah.
KARL: What do you say to that?
BUSH: Let them continue to babble.
KARL: Not true?
BUSH: I'm trying to think of the proper word. Absurd psycho-babble.
OK, now that we got the your-critics-might-need-professional-help question out of the way, onto other matters.
Karl asked about gay marriage, since that had come up in a press conference during Bush's trip to Africa. Bush was asked about how same-sex marriage could co-exist with Christian values, and he said something about how "I shouldn't be taking a speck out of somebody else's eye when I have a log in my own."
Karl asked if his view on the issue had "evolved at all," and Bush refused to answer. saying he was "off the stage…unless I'm promoting something I strongly believe in, and I believe that what we're doing in Africa is incredibly important." In other words, interviews are to be limited to the subjects I want to promote.
As David Sirota argued at Salon.com (7/8/13), Bush's record is still his record–and shouldn't be swept away by TV journalists just because Bush doesn't want to talk about it:
But the former president's platitudes shouldn't wipe the historical record clean of his record doing exactly the opposite of what he now preaches.
In the midst of the 2004 election, Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. That year, Bush presided over a Republican Party whose get-out-the-bigot-vote effort included putting anti-gay ballot measures in 11 states.
After the election, it was much the same thing. Bush’s top strategist, Karl Rove, publicly bragged that the GOP’s anti-gay crusade "was part and parcel of a broader fabric where this year moral values ranked higher than they traditionally do." Consequently, Bush had his administration publicly reiterate his commitment to constitutionally banning same-sex marriage.
So, in sum, 1) Bush was one of the most publicly anti-gay presidents in American history, 2) he made anti-gay demagoguery a more integral part of his electoral strategy than any president before him and 3) all of his anti-gay initiatives were fundamentally based on being "overly critical" of same-sex couples–so critical, in fact, that the initiatives championed official legislative restrictions on LGBT Americans' basic rights.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank (7/9/13) summed it up:
Karl's interview had all the rehabilitative imagery Bush could want: clips of him in a T-shirt, painting a medical clinic in Zambia and dancing with the locals–and video of Obama asserting that Bush's devotion to Africa has meant "millions of people's lives have been saved."
It should be noted that Karl got into mainstream journalism thanks to the Collegiate Network, a right-wing outfit that supports conservative campus publications and funds internships at Beltway media outlets aimed at getting more right-wing journalists into news outlets (Extra!, 6/11). But maybe that was obvious.