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George W. Bush received three standing ovations last week, the first for the mere mention of his name.
Bush was in town for the Atlantic Council’s annual fundraiser, where he received the Distinguished International Leadership Award from the influential think tank. More than 800 guests from 70 countries — including former presidents, prime ministers and military leaders — gave the 43rd president a warm, enthusiastic welcome.
He was introduced via video by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who said, “Ultimately, true leadership requires being, deep down, a good person.”
Bush responded with vintage Dubya: self-deprecating jokes, references to his mom and dad, and highlighting the importance of global diplomacy — specifically his administration’s work on the AIDS crisis. “I’m honored to get this award,” he told the audience. “I’d really like to dedicate it to the generosity of the American people and ask you to spread the word about what this great compassionate nation has done.”
He did not mention Iraq, nor did anyone else on this night of celebration.
“Time has done the reputation of President Bush a lot of good,” said Fred Kempe, president of the bipartisan Atlantic Council.
The organization has considered giving Bush the award for the past few years, but the Iraq War was always the stumbling block. This year, the jury looked at his work fighting AIDS, his foreign policy in Africa, and his leadership in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Our conclusion was that, the longer time goes on and his presidency is reassessed, the better he looks,” Kempe said.
Washington, it seems, has developed Bush nostalgia. Just nine years after he left the White House, many conservatives pine for their misunderestimated good old boy from Texas. Looking in the rearview mirror, the last Republican president suddenly appears measured, compassionate, principled — in short, presidential. Even liberals who could not waitfor Barack Obama to move into the White House are grudgingly penitent, privately admitting that they didn’t appreciate Bush’s good qualities.
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