Tag Archives: George W. Bush

In Praise of George W. Bush (No Kidding)

Where was this guy while Dick Cheney was running the country?

Granted, George W. Bush has been looking a lot better during the disaster that is Donald Trump…but I’m still dumbfounded (and awed) by his speech last week at the Bush Institute’s Spirit of Liberty event in New York.

A few quotations:

“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

 “Bigotry in any form is blasphemy against the American creed and it means the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation. We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools.”
“And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

“The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, [and] forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

In a further reproach to Trump–whose name he never uttered and who has dismissed the evidence–Bush also underscored the conclusion of all the American intelligence agencies about Russian interference in last year’s elections, calling it real and labelling it “subversion.”

Credit where credit is due: during his presidency, Bush never came across as a bigot, although he often failed to push back against his party’s use of bigotry and especially homophobia to win elections.

It is obviously easier for politicians who are not facing another election to call out Trumpism, as we’ve seen with John McCain and Bob Corker. But it is also easier to refrain from publicly defying a sitting President of one’s own party, easier to avoid setting an example that cannot help but shame the current leadership of that party. Easier to keep your head down and enjoy the accolades that come from being an “elder statesman.”

Bush’s broadside is so important because it is his party (or more accurately, what his party has become). Trump ran as a Republican. The House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Admonitions from Democrats–even previous Presidents–will be dismissed by the party’s base as partisan carping.

As welcome as this speech was, the fact that Bush delivered it is an ominous sign of how worried responsible people are. Those who understand government, who recognize the challenges facing the country and the incredible damage being done to America’s democracy at home and our stature abroad, are speaking up, and we need to recognize how  unprecedented that is.

Differences of opinion on policies would never prompt this behavior. Only a deep foreboding–a sense of existential crisis–can explain this departure from Presidential behavioral norms.

When George W. Bush feels it necessary to warn the country against Trump and Trumpism, we’re in trouble. Bigly.

Political Choices and Imperfect Information

We’re deep into presidential primary season, and Americans are taking our imperfect knowledge of the candidates to the polls.

Given the sheer amount of ink–digital or real–devoted to American presidential candidates, you’d think voters would have ample, detailed information about those competing for our votes and contributions. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Verifiable information is “supplemented” with rumor (scurrilous or fawning, depending upon the source and its motivation), and what we do read or hear is filtered through a partisan lens.

Unless we actually know a candidate–or know someone who does–we have only imperfect impressions on which to make judgments about character and intellect. That’s one reason why, in a more perfect world, voters would pay more attention to a candidate’s positions and less to the hype. Marco Rubio’s desire to outlaw all abortions–even in cases of rape and incest–tells you more about his character than softball interviews or even hardball debates.

I remember when George W. Bush was first running for President. He came across as more personable than Al Gore, and the meme was that here was a guy you’d enjoy having a beer with. At the time, I was working with an IUPUI professor whose (very Republican) doctor husband had practiced many years in Midland, Texas. When a dinner party conversation turned to the campaign, he mentioned that he’d gone jogging three or four times a week with George W. and a couple of others for several of those years.

“Really!” I said. “What’s he like?”

The doctor thought for a couple of minutes, then said “Dumb and mean.”

I don’t offer this as irrefutable evidence of George W’s intellect or temperament; I have no idea what their relationship might have been, or how accurate the doctor’s assessment. But it is evidence that widely shared impressions of public figures do not necessarily saccord with assessments by people who actually know and work with those figures.

I thought about that conversation when I read this description of Hillary Clinton at the Political Animal.

As President Obama’s former speechwriter (including during the 2008 primary), Jon Favreau admits that he was not always a fan of Hillary Clinton. He writes about how his view changed while he worked with her in the White House.

“The most famous woman in the world would walk through the White House with no entourage, casually chatting up junior staffers along the way. She was by far the most prepared, impressive person at every Cabinet meeting. She worked harder and logged more miles than anyone in the administration, including the president. And she’d spend large amounts of time and energy on things that offered no discernible benefit to her political future—saving elephants from ivory poachers, listening to the plight of female coffee farmers in Timor-Leste, defending LGBT rights in places like Uganda.”

Given the sustained assault on her character over the years, many of us have had a less-than-enthusiastic response to Hillary’s candidacy. She is clearly the most knowledgable and experienced, but she has also been the most tarnished–sometimes fairly, often not. People I’ve met who actually know her tend to share Favreau’s impressions.

Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who knows?

At least she isn’t arguing about who has the biggest penis.

I Don’t Want to Share a Beer with my Commander-in-Chief

There has been a good deal written about the desire of many voters for “fresh faces,” outsiders with no prior experience with government. This has led to patient efforts to explain to those voters why giving someone access to the nuclear codes who doesn’t understand what they are or how government works might not be the best idea.

We Americans tend to confuse celebrity with competence, likability with ability to do the job. You would think we’d learn…

Case in point: Most commentators attributed the original victory of George W. Bush over Al Gore to the former’s “likability.” Bush seemed like the sort of person you’d like to have a beer with, the pundits explained, while Gore was stiff and “professorial.”

The rest, as they say, is history. And much of that history is still being uncovered…

Chris Whipple has written a story at Politico offering a long teaser of the upcoming Showtime documentary The Spymasters. He and two colleagues spent more than a hundred hours interviewing the 12 living CIA directors, with considerable focus on the 9/11 attacks. Although the overall picture of failure by the administration to prevent the attacks has long been known, the story and documentary provide some added details. The key detail is that the warnings the Bush White House received from the CIA in the summer of 2001 were a lot more chilling than the infamous August 6 presidential daily brief. Writes Whipple:

[George] Tenet vividly recalls the [July 10] White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

As we now know, the administration not only didn’t go on “wartime footing” (which may or may not have been a good idea in any event), but according to Congressional investigations and subsequent revelations, basically shrugged its collective shoulders and waited to see what would happen.

Much of the incompetence that characterized so much of W’s first term–not to mention his reliance on the counsel of Darth Cheney–can be attributed to his very thin public resume. Even though his father was President, he’d been involved in politics, not governance, and the Texas Governor’s office is notoriously weak.

He did, however, have a resume, which is more than Trump, Carson and Fiorina.

Like it or not, we need a President who actually understands how government works–not a President who shares our resentments or our religious fantasies, nor one who tells us what we want to hear, no matter how far removed from actual fact.

We shouldn’t be choosing someone to run the country because s/he is someone with whom we’d like to have a beer.

A Peek in the Mirror

Ross Douthat is a conservative columnist at the New York Times (given David Brooks’ frequent forays into non-ideological common sense, it would not be inaccurate to say he is THE conservative columnist there). This morning’s column displayed an interesting combination of obtuseness and dawning recognition of political reality.

Douthat joins other conservatives who simply cannot fathom why Romney isn’t walking away with this election. He goes through several possible reasons–identifying “villains” like the “liberal education establishment” that has shifted the culture to the left–before settling on the likely culprit. And that culprit is…George W. Bush! He’s the one who destroyed the party’s brand!

Now, Bush clearly deserves a good deal of blame for the electorate’s distrust of GOP competence. But nowhere does Douthat suggest that the ham-handed Romney campaign with its wooden candidate might have something to do with the current status of the race. And only at the very end of his column does he grudgingly admit that the party doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the disaster in Iraq and the rape of the middle class by the bankers and other Masters of the Universe.

Conventional political wisdom tells us that “it’s the economy, stupid!” So Douthat and other conservative pundits are mystified by the increasing likelihood of a second Obama term.  What seems to have escaped them is yet another timeworn political adage: “you can’t beat something with nothing.”

You can’t beat a sitting President with a deeply flawed candidate whose only persuasive argument is that he isn’t Obama. And you can’t beat a party that reflects the ideas and aspirations of a diverse and ever-changing electorate with a party composed mainly of rigidly ideological old white guys.

As the GOP keeps reminding Obama, you can’t blame George W. Bush for everything.