George W. Bush is gone from Washington—and sometimes the city seems to have forgotten him. For all the passions that Bush inspired, the 43rd President’s legacy has been absent from the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney’s dog and Barack Obama’s college girlfriends feel like larger presences in this election season than the President who invaded Iraq, bailed out the banks and slashed taxes.Bush’s legacy was strangely absent from the Republican primaries, his name almost never mentioned in countless debates. Mitt Romney seems allergic to Bush’ name, as though it could summon some kind of terrible curse. After Bush recently blurted a one-line endorsement of Romney from an elevator last month, Romney expressed his gratitude by cryptically referring to W. as Obama’s “predecessor;” his spokeswoman made generic reference to “the President.” Maybe that’s better than “whatshisname”–but not by much.
Not that Bush has actually been forgotten. Americans do still remember W., just not very fondly. Last week, a CNN/ORC poll found that Bush is the least popular of the living ex-Presidents. His 43% favorability rating may be higher than it was in the darkest days of his presidency, when it bounced around in the mid-30s, but Bush is still less popular than Jimmy Carter, a man Republicans treat as a walking punch line.
No wonder, then, that the Romney camp is loath to discuss Bush. More surprising is how infrequently Democrats have invoked Bush’s legacy. In 2008, Obama’s campaign harped on Bush so much that Sarah Palin complained they were “pretending they are running against our current President.” Today, Obama often warns voters about GOP economic policies that “got us into this mess.” But he rarely if ever mentions Bush by name. And his Friday remarks about the sputtering economy didn’t even make reference to the former President’s policies.