As President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama prepare for their post-election meeting at the White House on Monday, memories of their first encounter linger.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama are probably hoping their meeting Monday goes better than their first get-together, which left a bad taste in the mouths of both men.
Four years ago, Obama and other newly elected members of the Senate were invited to the White House for a breakfast meeting with Bush, who pulled the young Chicagoan aside.
"Obama!" Bush exclaimed, according to Obama's account of the meeting in his second memoir, "The Audacity of Hope." "Come here and meet Laura. Laura, you remember Obama. We saw him on TV during election night. Beautiful family. And that wife of yours -- that's one impressive lady."
The two men shook hands and then, according to Obama, Bush turned to an aide, "who squirted a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the president's hand."
Bush then offered some to Obama, who recalled: "Not wanting to seem unhygienic, I took a squirt."
The president then led Obama off to one side of the room, where Bush said: "I hope you don't mind me giving you a piece of advice."
"Not at all, Mr. President," Obama told the commander-in-chief.
"You've got a bright future," Bush said presciently. "Very bright. But I've been in this town awhile and, let me tell you, it can be tough. When you get a lot of attention like you've been getting, people start gunnin' for ya. And it won't necessarily just be coming from my side, you understand. From yours, too. Everybody'll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself."
Bush then noted that he and Obama had something in common.
"We both had to debate Alan Keyes," the president said. "That guy's a piece of work, isn't he?"
Obama laughed and even "put my arm around his shoulder as we talked," he recalled, although he added the gesture "might have made many of my friends, not to mention the Secret Service agents in the room, more than a little uneasy."
Despite this display of bonhomie, Obama said the president's demeanor turned downright frightening when he laid out his agenda to the freshly minted lawmakers.
"Suddenly it felt as if somebody in a back room had flipped a switch," Obama wrote. "The president's eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty. As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring, and appreciated the Founders' wisdom in designating a system to keep power in check."
When I quoted from this passage to Bush during an Oval Office interview, the president seemed irritated to learn he had been taken to task by the senator he once counseled.
I thought I was actually showing some kindness," Bush said indignantly. "And out of that he came with this belief?"
The president added with a bit of a scowl: "He doesn't know me very well."