The disquieting arrival of former President Bush from his two-year public hiatus was met with both low ratings and wide derision for good reason: the troubling specter of this man post-presidency, hardly contrite or searching, bruises many Americans in a way that's difficult to put into words. If anything, he resembled a groundhog coaxed out of post-election hibernation by publicists, lacking the interiority to see his shadow, and ultimately making the much of the country realize that it is still living in the seemingly permanent winter brought on by his presidency.
If President Bush re-appeared to promote his book, he didn't make a good case for its sales. Anything new that he has said, the overblown fetus-in-the-jar story and the like, could have stood to remain the children left behind in his repertoire of anecdotes. If he emerged from cloister to talk Kayne, we get enough of that without him. If he wants us to visit his new library, well, I think we've all watched enough television to know how awesome Dallas is. And to the tiny landlocked part of the United States that still cares to listen to President Bush, the rest of us could have done without the media fury his reemergence brought on.
Despite the trauma, I can't help but wonder what, if anything, President Bush could do to salvage the way most Americans view him at this point. The well of realistic possibilities drew mostly dry in this exercise, but I remembered one thing he was good at and thought for a moment that under the right circumstances, President Bush might be able to right the national ship a little for his retirement perch.
During some of his most famous speeches, Bush was right and forceful about how the war we're fighting is against a strain of radical Islam and not the religion itself. While he may have said many a reckless thing in his eight years, he was pretty consistent on this point. Unfortunately, most members of his party have chosen not to carry on that message.
Thus, if offered the chance to finally dispel the libel surrounding President Obama's true religion, Bush, who has a little credibility on the topic, might manage to reign in the forces of extremism with which the United States is (also) currently in a civil war. Of course in a perfect world, President Bush would iterate that there would be nothing wrong with President Obama if he were a Muslim, but the new normal is no longer about perfection.
2012 is coming. Beyond the disasters foretold by the Mayans, the 2012 bogeymen are coming with their knives out for President Obama. If the United States is ever going to engage in the necessary discourse to break out of our national doldrums, we're going to need leaders, even our unpopular ones, to superintend the country's liminal space. Ratcheting down the talk that divides us into enemy camps might be something President Bush could do. It would change how many people view him and, more importantly, it might change how the country views itself. From there, it's labradoodles and full-on double rainbows for everyone.