Much to Democrats' chagrin, George W. Bush hasn't played much of a role in larger 2012 political conversation. His name was rarely uttered during the Republican presidential primaries; the failed former president hid during the party's national convention; and Mitt Romney did his level best to ignore the news when Bush endorsed him.
It came as a pleasant surprise, then, when a voter broached the subject last night. She noted she's been "disappointed with the lack of progress" over the last four years, but she's afraid of going back to Bush-era policies and wanted Romney to explain how they're different.
Romney responded by answering a previous question about contraception. When he got around to responding, Romney stressed oil drilling and trade as examples of why "President Bush had a very different path for a very different time" -- despite the fact that Romney and Bush have the same positions on oil drilling and trade.
What struck me as interesting was Obama making a counter-intuitive point -- he said Romney and Bush are different, but Romney is worse:
"You know, there are some things where Governor Romney's different from George Bush. George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform; he didn't call for 'self-deportation.' George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
"So there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they're not on economic policy. In some ways, he's gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy, and I think that's a mistake."
Now, when I heard the question, my first thoughts turned to the fact that Romney has surrounded himself with former Bush/Cheney aides who are shaping a Bush/Cheney platform. Obama didn't mention this.
But in some ways, the president's response was even more effective: if you loved Bush's economic policies, but didn't think he was right-wing enough on Medicare, immigration, and women's health, then Mitt Romney's the candidate for you.
I have a hunch the woman in the audience who posed the question wasn't reassured.