Every president since Gerald Ford has attended his party’s first convention after leaving office. Not George W. Bush. His name was barely mentioned in Tampa in 2012, or during the GOP primaries, or in any of thousands of Republican campaign ads during the 2012 cycle.
Yet the legacy of his administration is to Republicans like the proverbial elephant in the room, a presence too embarrassing to recognize but too overwhelming not to matter. In poll after poll, voters blame the poor economy not on Obama, but on Bush — and Bush’s policies are hard to distinguish from Romney’s. The Romney campaign has tried to make the race a referendum on Obama. It is shaping up, ironically, to be a referendum on Bush.
Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years explores why, despite efforts to airbrush him out of today’s political conversation, the 43rd president remains central to it. A compilation of some of the best journalism published in the Washington Monthly magazine during those years, the book gives an insightful real-time account of what happened in Washington when, for the first time in half a century, the GOP took charge of both elected branches of government. Suddenly, the rules in Washington changed in ways Beltway veterans were slow to see, in the service of an agenda they did not grasp, and with a level of incompetence that they literally could not believe.
We are still feeling the reverberations of the Bush years — in an unfinished war, an enduring recession, and the long shadows of Supreme Court appointments and decisions. And the possibility of a new period of unified GOP control of Washington, in 2012 or 2016, remains very real. Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, Elephant in the Room is a timely and important book premised on the idea that comprehending what went wrong in Washington during the Bush years is key to understanding what can be done to set the country right.
Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years, is edited by Paul Glastris, has an introduction by Steve Benen, and features the writings of Nicholas Confessore, Joshua Green, Charles Homans, Joshua Micah Marshall, Rachel Morris, Amy Sullivan, Nicholas Thompson, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, and Alan Wolfe.