WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush always pitched himself as a man who could work with both parties, a characterization liberals often strongly rejected. But after four years of partisan gridlock in Washington, one of Bush's strongest critics — the man who currently holds his old job — appears to be coming around to a belief that Bush had a point.
At two appearances in Texas this week, President Obama pointed to bipartisan successes by Bush that Obama said should be a lesson for the modern day Republicans who seem bent on rejecting everything the White House proposes.
"I'm really looking forward to attending the Bush Library opening tomorrow," Obama told Democratic donors at a DNC even in Dallas Thursday night, "and one of the things I will insist upon is that whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves its people and shared that same concern and was concerned about all people in America, not just some, not just those who voted Republican."
At the DNC event, focused of course on raising gobs of money to ensure there are fewer Republicans in Washington, Obama went out of his way to promise more bipartisan efforts even as he pushes for Democratic campaign victories.
"Occasionally, I may make some of you angry because I am going to reach out to Republicans. I'm going to keep on doing it. Even if some of you guys think I'm a sap, I will keep on doing it" — the audience laughed — "because I think that's what the country needs."
Obama said he and the GOP had come together on "national security and keeping America safe," but he said that accomplishing his big domestic policy goals required Democratic control of Congress.
The next morning at the dedication of Bush's presidential library, Obama made a direct appeal to prominent Washington Republicans in the audience to pick up a domestic bipartisan example from Bush.
"We remember his commitment to reaching across the aisle," Obama said of Bush. "To unlikely allies like Ted Kennedy."
Kennedy and Bush worked together to draft the No Child Left Behind law (that may Democrats now criticize.) But Obama said Bush and the late liberal Democratic senator were able to join forces out of an understanding "that we have to help every child learn, not just some."
Turning to the current fight over immigration reform, Obama cast his push to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants in America as a continuation of the failed bipartisan effort launched by Bush in his second term. He singled out Republicans in the crowd and called on them to help.
"This progress is only possible when we do it together," Obama said. "Even though comprehensive immigration reform took a little longer than we expected, I am hopeful that this year, with the help of Speaker Bohener and some of the Senators and members of Congress who are here today, that we bring it home."
"If we do that, it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush," Obama said.