- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Republicans rarely brought up former President George W. Bush at their convention last week, Democrats gleefully have paraded him through theirs, saying he left President Obama a mess he’s still working to clean up.

Several speakers derided Republican assertions that Mr. Obama has had enough time to turn the economy around, saying the financial hole the Bush administration dug will take years to climb out of.

“No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” said former President Bill Clinton during his keynote speech Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Clinton mocked Republicans by saying the theme of their convention in Tampa, Fla., was based largely on a false argument that “we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, ridiculed Republicans for ignoring Mr. Bush in Tampa, saying in a speech to the convention Wednesday that it was “no accident that Democrats celebrate our past presidents while Republicans virtually banished theirs.”

Mr. Bush didn’t attend the Tampa convention, with his main presence relegated to a five-minute tribute video. But even that honor was shared with his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

Norman Ornstein, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning Washington think tank, said Republicans are in a no-win situation on whether to defend, condemn or ignore Mr. Bush’s legacy.

“Tax cuts combined with two wars unpaid for and a prescription-drug benefit unpaid for … are far the more contributors to our current debt problem than anything that has happened since,” Mr. Ornstein said.

Many fiscally conservative, tea party Republicans are highly critical of the administration of the younger Mr. Bush for its penchant for spending and expanding government programs that led to a bloating of the federal debt.

“There are reasons why Bush’s name didn’t come up very much at the Republican convention other than a sort of feel-good, personal way, because for a policy standpoint, important elements of the contemporary Republican Party don’t want to take ownership of what Bush did,” said William A. Galston, a political analyst with the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank.

“Understandably, the Democrats are using the Bush administration as a drum to beat, and I think they’re pretty confident they’re not going to get a big push back from Republicans.”

Republicans have complained Democrats are taking their blame game against Mr. Bush too far and that Mr. Obama has failed to take enough responsibility for the still-sluggish economy.

Mr. Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, a former Republican governor of Florida, has chastised Mr. Obama for attacking his brother, calling on the president to “stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies.”

“You were dealt a tough hand, but your policies have not worked,” said Jeb Bush during a speech at the GOP convention. “In the fourth year of your presidency, a real leader would accept responsibility for his actions, and you haven’t done it.”

Democrats do risk pushing the anti-Bush button too much and turning off voters, Mr. Ornstein said. Some Obama surrogates have praised Mr. Bush for his humanitarian efforts, such his 2003 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which dedicated billions of dollars to expand AIDS prevention, treatment and support programs in countries hit hard by the epidemic.

Mr. Clinton on Wednesday also said he was “honored” to work with both former Bush presidents in relief efforts for victims of the 2004 South Asian tsunami, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

But Mr. Obama himself must tread carefully when commenting about his immediate predecessor for fear of being perceived as shirking his presidential responsibilities.

“Three-and-a-half years in, you don’t want to run for re-election saying, ‘Re-elect me, the problem is his,’ ” Mr. Ornstein said.

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