January 13, 2009: Leading up to the Inauguration & the Bush Legacy


IN FOCUS: The Bush Presidency

President Bush met in the Oval Office on Wednesday with President-elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. (Photos: Doug Mills/ The New York Times)

In Focus:

  • Bush, issue by issue: A look at the ups and downs of George W. Bush’s presidency on some of the biggest issues of the day – AP, 1-10-09
  • Bush endures stormy present, counting on history’s judgment: George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20 as one of the most vilified presidents in American history. Battered by an unpopular war and an economic collapse, Bush has racked up the longest streak of negative job-approval ratings in the history of polling. His end-of-term scores are worse than any modern president except Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace….
    “We have, by any polling measure, the most unpopular president in American polling history,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff. San Antonio Express, 1-10-09
  • A presidential welcome for USS George H.W. Bush: It’s the perfect gift for an old Navy flier: 1,092 feet of flattop. “What do you give a guy who has been blessed and has just about everything he has ever needed?” asked President George W. Bush from aboard the Navy’s newest ship. “Well, an aircraft carrier.” – AP, 1-10-09
  • Analysis: Bush’s personality shapes his legacy: President George W. Bush will be judged on what he did. He will also be remembered for what he’s like: a fast-moving, phrase-mangling Texan who stays upbeat even though his country is not. – AP, 1-3-09


The Headlines…

    President-Elect Barack Obama Transition office: http://change.gov/

  • All the Pageantry, Just Without the President NYT, 1-11-09
  • GOP chooses Rep. Kevin McCarthy as chief deputy whip: The Bakersfield lawmaker assumes a leadership position after one term in Congress. ‘He puts a friendly face on the party,’ one analyst says. – LAT, 1-11-09
  • Obama’s Cheney Dilemma: Cheney pushed for expanded presidential powers. Now that he’s leaving, what will come of his efforts? The new president won’t have to wait long to tip his hand. – Newsweek, 1-10-09
  • Obama’s inaugural luncheon fit for President Lincoln: Barack Obama had better like shellfish. The first course at his inaugural luncheon on Jan. 20, a seafood stew, consists of lobster, scallops and shrimp – all personal favorites, apparently, of Obama’s fellow Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, the 2009 inaugural luncheon has been designed to commemorate the bicentennial of the birth of Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809), the 16th president. Newsday, 1-10-09
  • Obama to honor McCain on inauguration eve – AP, 1-11-09
  • Paterson and Kennedy Meet to Discuss Senate: Gov. David A. Paterson met with Caroline Kennedy on Saturday for their first formal discussion about her interest in being appointed to the United States Senate, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting, which may suggest that the long and at times circuslike selection process may be drawing toward an end. – N”YT, 1-11-09
  • Lifting veil of privacy, friends discuss Kennedy: In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, friends and colleagues of Kennedy painted a picture of a reserved but intelligent and tenacious woman who writes her own speeches and who, despite her vast wealth, still takes the subway…. – AP 1-10-09
  • Obama advisers: Plan would create up to 4.1M jobs: President-elect Barack Obama countered critics with an analysis Saturday by his economic team showing that a program of tax cuts and spending like he’s proposed would create up to 4.1 million jobs, far more than the 3 million he has insisted are needed to lift the country from recession. – AP, 1-10-09
  • Ill. House impeaches governor, who vows to fight: Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached Friday by Illinois lawmakers furious that he turned state government into a “freak show,” setting the stage for an unprecedented trial in the state Senate that could get him thrown out of office. – 1-9-09
  • Democrats criticize Obama’s proposed tax cuts: President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed tax cuts ran into opposition Thursday from senators in his own party who said they wouldn’t do much to stimulate the economy or create jobs. – AP, 1-8-08
  • Ill. House panel recommends governor’s impeachment: An Illinois House committee has unanimously recommended that Gov. Rod Blagojevich be impeached for abuse of power. – AP, 1-8-09
  • Senate Democrats yield to Obama, retreat on Burris: Senate Democrats beat a hasty retreat Wednesday from their rejection of Roland Burris as President-elect Barack Obama’s successor, yielding to pressure from Obama himself and from senators irked that the standoff was draining attention and putting them in a bad light. Burris said with a smile he expected to join them “very shortly.” – 1-8-09
  • Obama taps spending watchdog, eyes Social Security: Pointing with concern to “red ink as far as the eye can see,” President-elect Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to tackle out-of-control Social Security and Medicare spending and named a special watchdog to clamp down on other federal programs — even as he campaigned anew to spend the largest pile of taxpayer money in history to revive the sinking economy. – AP, 1-8-09
  • Obama hails ‘extraordinary’ moment with presidents: Confronting a grim economy and a Middle East on fire, Barack Obama turned Wednesday to perhaps the only people on the planet who understand what he’s in for: the four living members of the U.S. presidents’ club. In an image bound to go down in history, every living U.S. president came together at the White House on Wednesday to hash over the world’s challenges with the president-elect. There they stood, shoulder-to-shoulder in the Oval Office: George H.W. Bush, Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. – AP, 1-7-09
  • End to Minn. Senate race pushed even further out: Republican Norm Coleman filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Democrat Al Franken’s apparent recount victory, likely keeping one of Minnesota’s two U.S. Senate seats unoccupied for weeks or even months. – AP, 1-7-09
  • Richardson adviser worked for firm feds probing: One of Gov. Bill Richardson’s close friends and advisers worked as a consultant for the California firm at the center of a federal pay-to-play probe that derailed the governor’s appointment as commerce secretary. – AP, 1-7-09
  • Ex-Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush won’t run for Senate in 2010: Former Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday that he won’t run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 to replace the retiring Mel Martinez, saying that it was not the right time to return to elected office. – AP, 1-6-08
  • CNN: Gupta approached about surgeon general post: President-elect Barack Obama has approached CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, about becoming the country’s next surgeon general, the cable network said Tuesday. – AP, 1-6-09
  • Democrats’ opposition to Burris begins to crackAP, 1-6-09
  • Obama’s CIA pick unlikely to face Senate challenge: President-elect Barack Obama had to do a little fence-mending Tuesday with the new Congress controlled by his own party — apologizing to a key Senate Democrat for failing to consult on his decision to name veteran Washington hand Leon Panetta CIA director. – AP, 1-6-09
  • Obama’s intel picks short on direct experience: President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of an old White House hand to head the CIA shows a preference for a strong manager over an intelligence expert. Obama’s decision to name Leon Panetta to lead the premier U.S. intelligence agency surprised the spy community and signaled the Democrat’s intention for a clean break from Bush administration policies. – AP, 1-6-09
  • Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretary: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday announced that he was withdrawing his nomination to be President-elect Barack Obama’s commerce secretary amid a grand jury investigation into how some of his political donors won a lucrative state contract. – AP, 1-4-09
  • Denver schools chief named to fill Senate vacancy: Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Saturday named Denver’s public schools superintendent Michael Bennet as his choice to fill a Senate vacancy that will be created by the promotion of Sen. Ken Salazar to interior secretary in the Obama administration. – AP, 1-3-09
  • Obama’s team polishing economic stimulus measure: President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team is putting the finishing touches on an economic recovery plan that could run from $675 billion to $775 billion. Briefings for top congressional Democratic officials are likely this weekend or on Monday, a senior transition official said Friday. Obama is slated to meet Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a session likely to focus on the economic recovery package. – AP, 1-2-09


Political Quotes

  • Bush Calls on Republican Party to Be Inclusive: “Look, obviously we got whipped in 2008, and there will be a new wave of leadership arriving on the scene,” Mr. Bush said. “But it’s very important for our party not to narrow its focus, not to become so inward-looking that we drive people away from a philosophy that is compassionate and decent.”
    “We should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we’re viewed as anti-somebody — in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant — then another fellow may say, well, if they’re against the immigrant, they may be against me.”
    “Listen, the man is obviously a charismatic person, and the man is able to persuade people that they should trust him. And he’s got something — he’s got a lot going for him.”
    “I would hope that the team that is, has the honor of, serving the country will take a hard look at the realities of the world and the tools now in place to protect the United States from further attack,” Mr. Bush said. “They will find that with a considerable amount of care and concern for civil liberties, for example, that I have put in place procedures that will enable the professionals to better learn the intentions of Al Qaeda, for example.”
    “During the darkest days of Iraq people came to me and said, you’re creating incredible political difficulties for us. And I said, oh, really, what do you suggest I do? Some suggested, retreat, pull out of Iraq,” he said. “I didn’t compromise that principle for the sake of trying to bail out my political party, for example.” NYT, 1-11-09
  • Obama in his weekly radio and YouTube broadcast address: “These numbers are a stark reminder that we simply cannot continue on our current path. If nothing is done, economists from across the spectrum tell us that this recession could linger for years and the unemployment rate could reach double digits — and they warn that our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world,” he said. – AP, 1-10-09
  • Palin: Is Kennedy getting ‘kid glove’ treatment? “I’ve been interested to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled and if she will be handled with kid gloves or if she will be under such a microscope.” “… we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here also that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be.”
    “I wasn’t believed that Trig was really my son,” she said. She called it a “sad state of affairs.” “What is the double-standard here? Why would people choose to believe lies? What is it that drives people to believe the worst, perpetuate the worst? When did we start accepting as hard news sources bloggers, anonymous bloggers especially?”
    “I was not commenting at all on Caroline Kennedy as a prospective U.S. senator, but rather on the seemingly arbitrary ways in which news organizations determine the level and kind of scrutiny given to those who aspire to public office. In fact, I consider Ms. Kennedy qualified and experienced, and she could serve New York well.” – AP, 1-10-09
  • Cheney says no one saw financial crisis coming: Cheney said that “nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure it out.” He said Bush doesn’t need to apologize because he has taken “bold, aggressive action.” – 1-9-09
  • Obama: Congress must act boldly and now on economy: “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years,” with unemployment reaching double digits, Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in suburban Virginia. “A bad situation could become dramatically worse.” AP, 1-8-09
  • Evan Thomas – An Interview with Barack Obama: NEWSWEEK: Going back to the period where you were deciding whether to run or not, I’m very curious about what you wanted to hear when you sat around with your friends and advisers. What were you looking for in terms of what you hoped to hear from them?
    Barack Obama: Well, the first question was, could I win? And I think that’s something that I needed to get some very objective assessments of, because one of the things that I’ve always been suspicious of is the hype that surrounded my entry into the U.S. Senate. I wanted to make sure that we hadn’t fallen prey to hype and believing our own press, so I wanted to test in very concrete terms and push very hard on the question of whether we could win. Since we assumed that we had a strong field, including Sen. Clinton and John Edwards.
    The second question, which had more to do with conversations between Michelle and myself on which we needed some feedback from the staff who had been through a presidential election, was how it would have an impact on our family. And that actually was the most important question, but unless we crossed the threshold where we could win, the second one became moot, because I had no interest in running if I didn’t think we could win. I wasn’t interested in setting myself up for four years from now because to some degree I was very fortunate; I already had a very high profile. I stood to lose more than gain in a presidential race if I wasn’t successful. So the second question was: how it would affect our family? And then thinking about schedules and workloads and the rhythm of a campaign, the nature of the scrutiny involved, how it would alter our daily round, and how would we, how effectively could we shield our families, our girls?
    And then the third question, which was the most profound question, and one where probably … in the end I had to answer all by myself was: should I win? Just because you can win doesn’t mean you’re the person who’s best for the country at this moment in time, and I, I, I actually believe my own rhetoric when I say I think we’re in a defining moment. It’s very difficult to think back to a time where we had a bigger series of choices, and obviously World War maybe, and then the immediate aftermath of WWII, the Great Depression, and before that, the Civil War . . . but the country has a lot of issues that it’s got to deal with. And so I don’t, I didn’t think it was sufficient for me to run just because of my own ambition or because I thought this was my time. I felt as if there had to be at least the possibility that I could do something that no other candidate in the race could do, whether it was bringing the country together more effectively, [or] building a consensus, [or] reinvigorating the American people’s interest in government. So that was a series of questions that had to be raised, and those questions were probably the ones that were least amenable to quantification. I mean, we can do some polling and sort of figure out, “Alright, can we win this thing or not?” It’s a lot harder to gauge whether you are what the country needs at this point in time. – Newsweek, 1-8-09
  • President Bush Welcomes President-Elect Obama, Former President Clinton, Former President Bush and Former President Carter to the White House:
    PRESIDENT BUSH: I want to thank the President-elect for joining the ex-Presidents for lunch. And one message that I have and I think we all share is that we want you to succeed. Whether we’re Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country. And to the extent we can, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you. All of us who have served in this office understand that the office transcends the individual. And we wish you all the very best. And so does the country. PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you. I just want to thank the President for hosting us. This is an extraordinary gathering. All the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office. And for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary. And I’m very grateful to all of them. But, again, thank you, Mr. President, for hosting us.
  • Ex-Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush won’t run for Senate in 2010: “I can play a role in helping to reshape the Republican Party’s message and focus on 21st century solutions to 21st century problems. Not running does not preclude me from being involved in these things and I will be.” “One of the benefits of being governor is people get to know you and I think people know I love this state. While I’m proud of my brother and I love my brother … people know that I’m Jeb Bush and I don’t think that would have been a problem.” – AP, 1-6-08
  • Obama says his plan with tax cuts to get quick OK: “The economy is very sick. The situation is getting worse. … We have to act and act now to break the momentum of this recession. The reason we are here today is because the people’s business cannot wait. I expect to be able to sign a bill shortly after taking office. By the end of January or the first of February.” AP, 1-5-09


Historians’ Comments

  • Doris Kearns Goodwin and Harold Holzer “Obama’s challenge From the economy to war, this president faces crises unimagined since Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt”: “The real challenge will come once he gets in there,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “The crisis is pretty large, and I don’t think until you become president that you really absorb how big it is. … We will see what inner resources Obama can draw on.”
    Goodwin believes Obama has shown evidence of that ability. “It certainly seems so, from the way his campaign was run and how little dissension bubbled out into the public — his staffers were not jockeying against one another, there were not people leaving, though in other campaigns people were fired, people left, people were dissenting,” she said. “Great leaders create a climate of respect for one another, in that group around you, so there’s a reservoir of good feeling. I’m sure when the memoirs are written, we’ll learn of the dissenting views about what to do at various moments during the campaign, but obviously those things got settled during the campaign.” – The News Journal, 1-11-09
  • Harold Holzer “Obama’s challenge From the economy to war, this president faces crises unimagined since Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt”: “The world is so divided and fractured — in ways that Lincoln could never have imagined,” said Harold Holzer, who is the author of 30 books, including the 2008 “Lincoln President-Elect,” and the co-chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. “And there is every bit as much fear and concern.”
    Lincoln wanted the strongest, most able leaders in the country working with him, Goodwin said. Though he had no pro-slavery voices in his circle of advisers, he had a “great range of opinions” about how to handle slavery, she said.
    “They were contentious internally, disputatious with each other, there were plots and schemes for power,” he said. “But were they critics? I don’t necessarily agree that they were critics. They may have been doubters, but I think it’s more a team of rivals for Obama. … None of Lincoln’s rivals ever debated him, criticized him or ran against him. Obama, though, has been appointing a team of rivals — and all were pretty blunt in their criticism of Obama. That is heartening.”
    “Lincoln was gregarious sometimes, morose at other times,” Holzer said. “But at his heart, he was a no-drama person as well. He was a very calm and collected person. He stood before Confederate sharpshooters outside Washington once. He was the only president to actually come under enemy fire. He had great physical courage. … And few saw the emotion that was beneath the surface.” – The News Journal, 1-11-09
  • Eric Rauchway “Obama’s challenge From the economy to war, this president faces crises unimagined since Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt”: Obama does not inherit a 25 percent unemployment rate, as Roosevelt did at his first inauguration, arriving as it did at the nadir of the Great Depression. Half of those who had jobs in 1933 were working only part time, said Eric Rauchway, professor of history at the University of California-Davis and director of the Center for History, Society and Culture.
    “We’re already talking about fiscal stimulus, which Roosevelt didn’t get around to until 1938,” he said. “One of the problems everyone agrees we have is the health insurance of this country — the great unpassed New Deal reform,” he said. “They took it out of the Social Security law because they thought they couldn’t get it through and we’re still stuck with the problem, these 75 years later. Public health insurance increases the mobility of workers, who won’t quit a job because they don’t have health insurance. It can be an economic stimulus.”
    Rauchway sees no big effect of the 24-hour news cycle — “people who want news get news, whether in 1933 or now” — but he does see a parallel in the way Roosevelt and Obama delivered their messages to the American people.
    “The new media of Roosevelt’s day — radio and newsreels — some would say this is really critical to turning the corner on the Depression, and I suppose it is,” he said. “It’s very intangible. But with Roosevelt coming to the American people in the intimate way radio can provide, you get a sense of why this was good. He spoke in plain language, but he didn’t oversimplify the problems they were dealing with. It was not dumbed down, but in pretty plain English. It’s too soon to say, but we have some indication that Barack Obama is the same way. His infomercial before the election was a lot of Barack Obama talking directly to the people.” – The News Journal, 1-11-09
  • Douglas Brinkley Analysis: Bush legacy _ grim times, gloomy nation: “He put everything into his campaign for Iraqi democracy,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor at Rice University. “The results seem to be quite painful for the United States, not just in terms of more than 4,000 dead soldiers, but the ideological fervor instead of a cool-headed pragmatism.” AP, 1-11-09
  • Gil Troy “BALLOT BOX BLUES – Votes for sale: Political candy replaces ideas and ideals”: “If ever there was a moment where we needed a candidate who could come out with a big idea, we just experienced it, in the Canadian and American elections,” says Gil Troy, a political historian at McGill University. “This was a real leadership moment. But as the stock markets imploded, the candidates just went small bore rather than embracing big ideas.” “I didn’t hear anything from (Stephen) Harper or (Stephane) Dion that was particularly illuminating,” he says. “There was no inspiration and no insight. It was deeply disappointing.” Dion had tried to campaign on a big idea, but his Green Shift was so poorly explained, and so quickly overshadowed by the unfolding economic crisis, says Troy, that if anything it proved ideas don’t work in election campaigns anymore. – Canwest News, 1-11-09
  • Robert Dallek “For Bush and His Staff, a Season of ‘the Lasts'”: “They’re working hard to build their historical reputations,” said the presidential historian Robert Dallek. “Generally, presidents don’t spend the last days and weeks in office defending their record. They produce a memoir, they write a volume. “To spend your waking hours on a defense of yourself speaks volumes about how, in a sense, defeated they’ve been.” – NYT, 1-11-09
  • Allan Lichtman “Obama’s Vision: Only Government Can End Economic Woes”: “Ronald Reagan in 1980 began the new conservative era in America. And 2008 is 1980 in reverse,” said Allan Lichtman, an expert on the presidency at American University in Washington. “Reagan famously said government is not the solution, it’s the problem,” Lichtman said. “Obama is saying government is the solution and, in fact, the only real solution to the crisis we’re experiencing today. It’s not just a matter of fixing the economy. It’s a matter of fundamentally moving the economy in a new direction. And government, not private enterprise, has to take the lead.” – San Jose Mercury News, 1-8-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Shape of the Office: Obama and Executive Power” – “The notion that there’s some magic formula he can achieve within a month or two is unfair,” said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University. “There are many components to the crisis, many things that deal with financial regulation, and it will be hard for Obama to deal with this on his own.” For this reason, Zelizer and other scholars expect Obama to begin his term with a flurry of high-profile, somewhat symbolic actions — say, closing Guantanamo — then throttle back and begin the trickier task of managing everyone’s expectations. – Congressional Quarterly, 1-10-09
  • Julian Zelizer “The Ultimate Power Lunch”: As Princeton historian Julian Zelizer told CBS News, ” Diplomatic funerals overseas actually are often the way presidents get together, or the death of a former president but this is not that kind of meeting. This is not ceremonial. This really almost a think tank.” – CBS News, 1-7-09
  • Douglas Brinkley “The Ultimate Power Lunch”: Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told the CBS News Early Show that at least for today, “Obama’s making a real statement that I’m going to be seeking counsel and advice from all of the ex-presidents.” – CBS News, 1-7-09

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