By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
It's one thing for Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, or Laura Bush to quickly pen books bragging on what a good president W was. But when academics start weighing in on the positives of the recently retired president's policies, it's only natural to wonder if they're jumping the gun to laud the much-vilified George W. Bush. So Whispers turned to John Graham, a former Bush budget office aide and a dean at Indiana University to get the lowdown on the rush to judgment. His new book, Bush On The Home Front, charts 43's string of domestic successes with Democrats and also suggests some paths for President Obama to follow as he struggles with partisanship.
"In the university world it's not good to be second, third, or fourth," says Graham, when asked why he wrote his book so soon. "I'm not trying to win a popularity contest. I'm trying to put a case out there for people to look at." He's the first to make the case that Bush was a big winner on the domestic stage, cutting deals with Democrats like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on education, before losing steam in his second term. "There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Bush on how to get things done in a partisan world," says Graham.
Three stand out, he says. First, Bush picked issues to push that he thought Democrats would like to play ball on: education, energy, and healthcare for the elderly. Second, he sometimes went around lawmakers to interest groups to pressure his Democratic foes to the negotiating table. Take energy. He knew Democrats wouldn't go along with his bid for wider coal and nuclear use or for more domestic oil drilling. So he also included a provision for ethanol. That got pro-Democratic farm groups excited, and they in turn pushed farm state lawmakers to OK the plan.
The last lesson: Keep winning on policy. "You have to show success," Graham says. Once Bush stopped, into his second term, his domestic presidency was over. "It's hard to come back," he says.
Graham says Obama should follow Bush's first-term pattern of using one victory to jump to a next. "He ought to pivot off healthcare on to immigration," says Graham. "He'll have a chance at holding most of his Democrats together and picking off 10 to 15 Republican senators."