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The day he left office, Bush went off the grid, vanishing from the political conversation faster than any former President since Reagan. It wasn't that he stopped paying attention or that he approved of Obama's policies; he just knew from experience, and club tradition, that it didn't help to have former Presidents carping from the sidelines, particularly at the start. "He deserves my silence," Bush said of Obama. "I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him. I think it's time for the ex-President to tap-dance off the stage and let the current President have a go at solving the world's problems."
The club still keeps its own counsel: all the Presidents, including Bush, balked at a White House feeler last May to join Obama in lower Manhattan to mark the death of bin Laden. That invitation fell outside club protocol: way too political. Bush finally stepped out a bit in March, saying he favored construction of the Keystone pipeline and, in April, supporting the extension of his tax cuts--which, he added almost plaintively, he wished bore someone else's name because they'd stand a better chance of surviving. But, he also affirmed, "I don't think it's good, frankly, for our country to undermine our President. I don't intend to do so." On the whole, the Bushes have been the least critical Republicans in America when it comes to Obama.
2. George H.W. Bush: The Father Figure
If Obama had little contact with Bush the son, the father was a different story. Obama went out of his way to praise the elder Bush during the 2008 campaign and then courted 41 once he was sworn in. Early in 2009, White House aides let Bush know Obama wanted to pay a courtesy call sometime that fall, preferably in Texas. Bush, who had to contend with four former Presidents during his time in office, consented to meet. And so in October, Obama flew to Texas A&M in College Station, home of Bush's presidential library, to toast Bush in a speech about public service. Bush was so concerned that Obama's visit to the conservative Texas campus might be marred by protests that he took the unusual step of sending an open letter to the student body of 50,000, pleading for a welcome reception. When Obama arrived, he paid his host right back. "George Bush isn't just a President who promoted the ethic of service long before it was fashionable," Obama said. "He's a citizen whose life has embodied that ethic ... He could easily have chosen a life of comfort and privilege, and instead, time and again, when offered a chance to serve, he seized it."
For Obama, this was obviously good politics: the new President could only gain ground by courting one of the few widely admired figures on the American political landscape, particularly one whose moderate policies seemed almost liberal compared with those of the modern GOP. Still, members of the Bush family appreciated the way the club's youngest member treated its oldest, and they admitted as much to friends.