George H.W. Bush was delighted with his guest. Last Friday at the 41st president’s library on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, Bush and President Obama met to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Points of Light service program, part of Bush 41’s legacy to the country. Unfailingly polite, Bush wrote the Aggie community before Obama’s visit. The note was fairly anodyne, but 41 was worried about an adverse reaction to the incumbent on the largely conservative campus. “Along with the administration, faculty, and so many of you, I am honored that The President, our President, is taking the time and making the effort to come to College Station … This is not about politics.”
There is a small grammatical clue here about how deeply Bush felt that Obama was to be treated with courtesy: 41 capitalizes the T in “The President” (and obviously the P) when he wants to invest the office with the highest possible importance and dignity. In the weeks after September 11, in a note to me declining a request for an interview for the magazine, Bush concluded: “Please say a prayer for our beloved son, The President.” Now Barack Obama holds ultimate responsibility, and, in Bush’s view, deserves ultimate respect.
The common wisdom—a phrase 41 uses more often than “conventional wisdom”—is that Obama is an heir of 41’s style, particularly in the diplomatic realm. The storyline is clear: Obama is more like George W. Bush’s father than George W. Bush ever was.