Barack Obama’s foreign policy has often been compared to that of the first President Bush as the “realist” tendencies of both the president and his advisers have often been noted particularly with regard to his hostility to Israel and interest in appeasing Russia. But on the day that George H.W. Bush celebrates his 88th birthday, the real comparison between the Republican mandarin and the hero of the liberal “hope and change” crowd is just becoming apparent. As he seeks re-election, President Obama is fighting not so much to convince Americans of his worth but to control the narrative about a failing economy. That’s the very same struggle the 41st president fought and lost 20 years ago.
A generation after his political Waterloo at the hands of Bill Clinton’s political war room that immortalized the slogan “It’s the economy stupid,” the elder Bush is a popular figure, especially when compared to his son. Unlike his namesake, Bush 41’s re-election efforts were sabotaged by Ross Perot’s third party candidacy and the bad timing that caused his post-Gulf War popularity to peak a year before he faced the voters again. But most of all it was the perception that he had led the economy onto the rocks and was so out of touch with ordinary Americans that he didn’t even know it. After the last two weeks in which a devastating jobs report was followed by President Obama’s claim the private sector was “doing just fine,” you don’t have to strain to hear the echoes of the elder Bush’s troubles.