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A 'comfortable' George W. Bush

Associated Press

Former President George W. Bush has kept a fairly low profile for the last several years, and that was by design. The two-term Republican apparently prefers to be away from the spotlight and outside the political and policy disputes of the day.

But on May 1, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will open -- exactly 10 years to the day as Bush's tragic and ill-conceived "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Lincoln -- and as a result, the former president is inching back into public life, at least a little. That included an interview with the Dallas Morning News.

The former president is doubling down on "compassionate conservatism." ... For Bush, "compassionate conservatism," much derided by the party's harder-edged tea party adherents, is still a powerful draw.

He predicted a renewed interest in the philosophy, which he described as "the idea that articulating and implementing conservative ideas leads to a better life for all."

Well, that's interesting, because when Bush initially sought national office, this wasn't at all how "compassionate conservatism" was defined. On the contrary, the phrase was supposed to position Bush as a moderate who saw a constructive role for government, and who had no use for the radicalized agenda of congressional Republicans. Remember when the then-governor, as a presidential candidate in 1999, said of the House GOP, "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor"? That was "compassionate conservatism."

The phrase was never taken especially seriously by the Bush/Cheney administration -- I'd say "compassionate conservatism" went out the window when the administration embraced torture -- and it strikes me as curious that the former president feels the need to redefine the concept more than a decade later.

But reading the Morning News interview, in which Bush described himself as "comfortable" with both his life and legacy, that's really just the start.

Bush also made clear that he's not interested in being idle. He described his role as "a person searching for a way to continue to serve without being involved in politics."

On the one hand, that means Bush is helping lead a cancer-fighting initiative that has helped screen more than 28,000 women in Africa. On the other, it means Bush is speaking in the Caymans about "alternative investment" strategies.

Bush also took on those -- including many members of his own party -- who say his policies led to excessive spending. He compared himself to Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan on several economic statistics. [...]

"My only point," Bush said, "is that when there's an objective analysis of our fiscal record, people will say, 'Well, that's different than I thought.'"

If by "different," Bush means "worse," he might have a point. The Republican inherited a large budget surplus and was on track to eliminate the entirety of the national of debt within a decade. Instead, Bush embraced the most reckless fiscal agenda in generations, adding $5 trillion to the national debt, while spending recklessly with very little to show for it. The former president was also the first to slash taxes during a war, paying for two conflicts entirely through deficit financing.

Asked what he might have done differently -- with the benefit of hindsight -- Bush listed the same regrets he mentioned upon leaving the White House: the failure to overhaul Social Security and immigration policy.

Even after the 2008 crash, Bush still thinks he should have privatized Social Security.

Bush defended his handling of the economy, recalling that he came into office during a recession, albeit a modest one compared with the financial crisis near the end of his term. He touted his tax cuts as the "most sustaining" and "fairest" way to boost economic growth.

His tax cuts didn't work and were a demonstrable failure when it came to creating a "sustained" recovery.

He likewise reiterated his support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that he's "confident the decisions were made the right way."

Of course he does.

"I'm comfortable with what I did," he said. "I'm comfortable with who I am."

Well, at least someone is.