For a Few Hours Last Week, I Had the Whole Calvin Coolidge Vibe Going. But Today, I'm Feeling Kind of Zachary Taylorish.

Which one of his predecessors does President Bush see when he looks in the mirror? One minute he's a Harry Truman, the next he's George Washington.

On a trip to Mount Vernon yesterdayto celebrate Presidents Day (and Washington's 275th birthday), President Bush revived an old joke from the 2000 campaign. "I feel right at home here," he said. "After all, this is the home of the first George W."

Back in the summer of 2000, as he was struggling to establish some gravitas, Bush liked to crack the same joke about his own name. Never mind that the W stands for Walker, not Washington. As he accepted the GOP nomination in Philadelphia in August 2000, Bush noted how the founders had come to Philadelphia themselves. "Ben Franklin was here," he said. "Thomas Jefferson. And, of course, George Washington. Or as his friends called him, George W."

At Mount Vernon, Bush continued the analogy by drawing his favorite comparison with former presidents: the notion that their difficult wars are now treated kindly by the history books. "With the advantage of hindsight, it is easy to take George Washington's successes for granted and to assume that all those events were destined to unfold as they did," he said. "Well, the truth is far different. America's path to freedom was long and it was hard. And the outcome was really never certain."

This just happens to be the same conclusion President Bush has drawn about at least two other war presidents that he has compared himself to: Lincoln and Truman. Lincoln remains his favorite predecessor, the only one to have two portraits hanging on the wall of the Oval Office. More recently, he and his aides have drawn comparisons with Truman, bogged down in the Korean war and laying the groundwork for the Cold War that would last a generation.

Just in case his audience couldn't figure out the comparison, Bush ended his observations about Washington with an explicit reference to his own war on terror.

"George Washington's long struggle for freedom has also inspired generations of Americans to stand for freedom in their own time," he said. "Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone. He once wrote, "My best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.'"

It might not sound like his own democracy agenda in the Middle East. But to a beleaguered president, mired in sectarian war in Iraq, the notion of irresistible excitement must seem like a distant dream.

Join the Discussion