The conservative commentariat is predictably apoplectic this morning about a New York Times story on the Middle East which claimed "Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China." While the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol protested, "Unfortunately for him and us, Barack Obama is president of the United States," Republican stenographer Pajamas Media asked, "So, our president wants to be an even bigger bully than he already is?"
Of course, the Republican echo chamber remained silent when George W. Bush repeatedly said it would be easier to be a dictator than President of the United States.
In its story on the President Obama response to the wave of unrest gripping North Africa and the Middle East, the Times concluded with this nugget:
How Mr. Obama manages to do that while also balancing American interests is a question that officials acknowledge will plague this historic president for months to come. Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, "No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao's words in Tahrir Square."
If that sounds familiar, it should. Because both before and after he entered the White House, President Bush frequently said pretty much the same thing:
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it." (President George W. Bush, July 26, 2001.)
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." (President-elect George W. Bush, December 18, 2000.)
"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier." (Texas Governor George W. Bush, July 1998.)
While Bush like Obama was joking, there were some among his more fervent right-wing fellow travelers who wanted to indulge his autocratic fantasies. In the fall of 2007, the arch conservative web site Family Security Matters (whose home page on Friday morning featured writings by the likes of Michelle Malkin and the National Review's Andy McCarthy) briefly featured an essay in August 2007 by Philip Atkinson which called for Bush to use nuclear weapons in Iraq and then proclaim himself President for Life:
President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming ex-president Bush or he can become President-for-Life Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.
It's no wonder Atkinson's screed ("Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy") was quickly taken down from the web site, as was Atkinson himself.
No doubt, Barack Obama is about to find out that it's not so easy to joke about it being easier to be president of China; the right-wing noise machine will guarantee that. But when George W. Bush guffawed about his own dreams of dictatorial power, the same conservative media megaphones were predictably silent.