Context is everything, especially when it comes to the appearances of former presidents on late-night talk shows, so it’s hardly a surprise that George W. Bush was perfectly charming Tuesday night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Former first lady Laura Bush, who eventually joined her husband on the couch, was even more perfectly charming
Gone was the president who lost the popular vote to Al Gore by half a million ballots but was handed the White House anyway by the Republican majority on the Supreme Court; whose national security team ignored actionable intelligence about a coming al Qaeda attack on the United States; who entangled the nation in a costly, bloody preemptive war against Iraq under false pretenses, using cooked-up evidence; who terribly mishandled the occupation of that damaged and alien country, causing even more death and destruction; who sanctioned official torture and other human rights violations but didn’t get Osama bin Laden; who, at the start of his second term, tragically botched the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina; and who presided over a massive financial meltdown that sent Wall Street tumbling into the abyss and resulted in one of the worst recessions in American history.
That guy? Nowhere to be seen.
Instead, the George Bush who schmoozed with Leno was a wryly humorous, self-deprecating, still-vital 67-year-old who likes to laugh at himself and paint pictures of his pets on canvas while performing good works, such as refurbishing health clinics in Africa, where he and his wife Laura are fighting cervical and breast cancer among the women there, and helping the wounded warriors who were physically and psychically maimed in his ill-advised military adventures. “It’s a tremendous honor to have the 43rd president of the United States…on the show tonight,” Leno announced, prompting the studio audience to erupt in a sustained cheer that probably would not have greeted Bush when he was still in office and his public approval ratings were even worse than Barack Obama’s.
“Better him than me,” Bush quipped when Leno pointed out that he aims most of the political barbs in his monologue these days at the 44th president and seldom if ever makes fun of 43 anymore.
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