“Anesthesia, no matter how well administered, eventually wears off”- Frank Rich, N.Y. Times
I have had an eerie feeling about George Bush from the beginning. He seemed a spoiled brat of no accomplishment who must be a poor president. That his vision did not extend below his own social level has been confirmed by his only domestic program, a determined effort to lower taxes, a policy that largely benefits the rich. Although he has done a remarkable job gaining political popularity, he has not dealt with the troubled economy and his policy of international aggression has earned us hatred all over the world.
Despite the record, he is popular. How? Two factors are responsible: 1) he has developed into a brilliant politician and 2) he has skillfully played upon the emotions aroused by 9/11. Let us look at the record to see if the popularity is deserved.
As background, Bush has little interest in government policy, and as a result the administrative side is left to others. At the same time, he is keenly interested in keeping attention focused on himself, so that other cabinet members do not get any notice. The result is that no one knows what is going on in this administration. That is important because obscurity has allowed the right to carry out anti-government programs unobserved. Some of what they are doing will end up as positive, but it is suspicious because of being done on the sly. Meanwhile, the game of politics is what entrances Bush, he merely adopts an issue here and there for its political impact.
As for domestic accomplishment, he pushed for and got a mild version of an education program, but the changes have never been funded and it is now forgotten. It was compassionate impressionism, and the right does not like government programs of any kind. The main Bush program, the one he ran on, was a tax cut. Remember, give the people back their money. If the economy had kept going, Bush would not have gotten much, but fortunately for his tax program, he immediately ran into a recession. Now tax cuts could be economic stimulus, and suddenly were wise. We ended up with a new tax law far different from his proposal, but Bush got credit for it anyway, although it was a bipartisan effort at economic stimulus. The early benefits went mostly to the lower brackets, the upper bracket cuts were delayed, and the entire plan was set to expire in ten years because wiser heads were aware that financial pressures will mount after 2010 because of a major increase in retirement.
Bush was not satisfied and almost at once began pushing for acceleration of the delays in the high brackets. When the Democrats made an effort for further tax moves because the economy remained weak, Bush pushed harder for acceleration and also for making the law permanent, not a sensible cause with any tax law, especially with deficits exploding. To defend the high bracket cuts that became increasingly questionable with the need to boost the economy, the president pulled a twist that has become his standard mode of operation, tagging any effort at changing the tax law as a tax increase. The notion that curtailing the reductions that had not yet taken place was a tax increase is ridiculous, but it seemed to create the desired impression. Not only did he use the need for more stimulus in this way, he introduced yet a further high bracket focused request to make dividends tax free. You could hardly get less stimulus for the dollars lost, yet typically Bush pushed it as a stimulus program.
Bush’s lack of interest in a truly stimulative tax program derives from an overriding belief that no one should be taxed at more than 25%. If that leaves the government short, then cut government. This is standard right wing dictum, but abrogates present management of the government and the economy. This fiscal irresponsibility comes out of Bush’s lack of interest in economics. He simply ignores economists, as reflected in the departure of his entire economic team because no one was paying any attention to them and they were insufficiently cooperative in bending their economic beliefs to his political needs. Being on the Bush team means blindly following whatever he wants. He has never proposed a program for specifically dealing with the weak economy, as Clinton or Gore would have, a problem because we seem to be facing a new and more intractable situation.
The style of baiting with high sounding motives and switching to a hidden intent first appeared in the tax area, and has become Bush’s keynote, repeated over and over. For instance, the call for a prescription drug benefit started as a disguised attempt to curtail overall medicare benefits, while appearing to be the compassionate supporter of the aged. Something has to be done about soaring medicare costs, but rather than attacking the problem frontally amid careful study, we get a program aimed at tricking people into getting out of medicare and medicaid through a drug benefit (drugs may be expensive, but they are a minor factor in rising medical costs). The hydrogen power research project is fine, but it is an attempt to cover up despoiling the environment. Bush initiatives are almost always based on putting a favorable light on something the American people would not approve if addressed directly. Tax benefits of his programs always appear as averages, where huge benefits at the top average out reasonably well, but the median taxpayer often gets nothing. He uses statistics in the most dishonest manner, something all presidents are guilty of, but never to such an extent.
Another example of domestic deviousness, escaped through the distraction of 9/11, is the business scandals. The Enron blow up could have been disastrous, for big business created the Bush candidacy, and Enron was his foremost corporate supporter. It had gotten several people into the administration, including a cabinet member, and its fingers were all over the proposed energy program. Suddenly, the very corporate leaders responsible for Bush’s rise were revealed as greedy cheats using their position at public corporations to line their own pockets. Bush’s problem was compounded by his man at the SEC having sworn to eliminate the reforms of his predecessor (standard practice for anti-regulation Bush). One gaff after another led to SEC chief Pitt being canned, but again Bush pulled a slick one, naming an old Wall Street hand to head the SEC, where he will be in position to protect the interests of the major brokerage companies. Again, Bush displayed that his loyalties always lie with corporations and the rich, he never has any interest in the common good.
During the Enron and accounting fuss, Bush stuck loyally by his business constituency and would not hear of reform, until the Worldcom bust created such outrage that something had to be done. Only then did he sign the Sarbanes law increasing the powers of the SEC and adding supervision to the accounting industry.
After signing the bill and rendering his usual tough guy speech about locking up the crooks (his backers!!), the president went right back to fostering his business supporters. He sought to undermine the new law by under-funding, to defang the new accounting oversight board by appointing a bumbling old man with little knowledge of accounting, and to protect the besieged brokerage industry by appointing a Wall Street stooge as new head of the SEC. Bush’s most repeated act of governance has been sabotaging regulation to the advantage of his corporate and Wall Street supporters. They put up the money and he dishes out the rewards (it’s called loyalty, a trait he admires above all others).
With 9/11 arriving almost simultaneously with Enron, Bush had lucked out again. He is fortunate in having a soft press. The right wing press would have crucified a Democratic president under these circumstances. The Democrats don’t have that kind of opportunistic partisan support, and the legitimate press seems to have a guilty conscience because of unfair treatment of Clinton over White Water. Another difference seems to be that Clinton drew an automatic distrust that went with an over-smart over-sexed poor boy from the sticks, whereas Bush has an establishment propriety that creates a clean impression. One of his most remarkable feats is maintaining an aura of cleanliness despite support for corporations that would normally be considered suspicious.
Bush escaped unscathed from this contemptible record not merely because of 9/11, but also due to a knack for being perceived as a man of the people. That is no mean feat for an upper crust Ivy League aristocrat whose vision does not go beyond his own tax bracket. How did Bush get away with this favorable impression?
There are a several parts. First, he has no personal interest in right wing, or any other, policy, ideology is not his thing. He is a politician who wants to get elected, and that is the only thing on his mind. Gingrich loudly positioned himself behind the right wing program, opening himself up for counterattack. Bush is silent. He leaves the dirty work to Cheney and those actually running the government, who operate quietly, covered by the headline grabbing Bush ranting on taxes and terrorism, Osama and Saddam. What little involvement Bush has is in backwater issues like education and stem cells. When questioned on domestic matters, he changes the subject by answering in terms of tax cuts or fighting terrorism. He can turn almost any question into getting Saddam, or earlier Osama. In control of the forum, he simply does not answer questions that might be embarrassing. In a recent conference on the economy with a group of financiers and economists, they got nothing, everything led to Iraq. Press sessions are used for propaganda about tax cuts and war on terrorism. He takes full advantage that anything he says is news, no matter how innocuous or repetitive. The 3/6 press briefing was a total loss from the point of view of actually answering the questions, and when anyone tried to follow up, he moved on. Using this formula, he no longer seems the idiot before the press because he never allows himself to be trapped in anything of substance that might make him appear awkward. But I want to pose a question – how can you trust a man who won’t answer simply questions?
The Bush presidency has marked a new phenomenon on the American political scene, management of the daily news to create a favorable impression of what is happening and what they are doing, taking advantage of the average voter’s gullibility. Right wing opinion molders are skilled Wall Street traders taking advantage of the public’s emotions. Their remarkably success has extended to taking over whole TV networks, and continually planting their people on talk shows as experts, or using their business influence to get far right programming, as in a show by a panel of the Wall Street Journal editorial staff. The ordinary listener is unaware that it would be hard to get more to the right than this gang.
Next in the Bush act is the Texas cornpone drawl. Bush, the eastern establishment Yalie, has succeeded in pulling off a kind of slow, barroom-casual, slurred country speech with a gospel evangelical tone that makes him seem exactly what he is not. His acting has improved immensely, supported by a schedule that in a typical week includes four carefully scripted appearances outside the capital. Like no other president, he is always on the stump. No president has ever made so many speeches, or had so many speech writers. This is his role, and he is good at it (lately the cornpone drawl has been curtailed to appear statesmanlike). Others run the government, he makes speeches and smoozes. This is covered up by the press reporting everything as a Bush initiative when he usually has nothing to do with it, while cabinet members and staff have disappeared from public view. The minions are coached to praise his participation and judgment. The effort to built up the boss is orchestrated on a scale never before seen in American politics. Speeches are not directed at a specific topic, but at personal image building.
A keynote to the Bush presidency is his extraordinary self-centerness. Here is an example, drawn from a puff job book by one of his speech writers. The speech writer writes what he considers a good speech on some subject, and Bush, who spends a great deal of effort editing, had marked up the speech so badly that the speech writer asks, what does all this mean. The answer, “you don’t get it, the speech is about me”, not whatever the subject was supposed to be. That’s Bush, detached from events, but absolutely determined to hog whatever credit is available and ceaselessly working on his image. Let’s face it, that’s weird, weak, and most unfortunate for a president of the USA. It is a vital job, not merely a stage for enhancing image.
The most remarkable example of the emptiness of Bush’s domestic policy, and a foremost example of his political cleverness, is home defense. Following 9/11 you had to be blind not to see the need for a program of home defense. Bush did nothing, encouraged by the right wing abhorrence of any government program other than defense. The only exception was a massively overdone airport security program to salve the public and give an impression of activity. From a practical point of view, the airport set up is ridiculous, but it was good showmanship.
Inaction on home defense brought the Democrats to attempting home security legislation, only to pull back because Bush was opposed (we don’t want another government agency). The Democrats blew a heaven sent opportunity, failing to recognize that the Republicans and Bush could never have vetoed such a bill. When hearings about the shortcomings in intelligence and lack of action elsewhere captured the news, Bush, with an ever keen political ear, quickly slapped together a proposal for a massive new agency.
At this point Bush’s politically devious mind reached the point of brilliance. He proposed that the new agency not abide by civil service standards, a maneuver that put the Democrats in a bind because of their labor constituency (since a major reduction in civil service jobs was involved, the old personnel system will continue). Bush was then in position to assert that the Democrats were sabotaging home defense! You gotta love a guy able to pull off a dirty trick like that, real genius. As the election approached, he emphasized the imperative need to act immediately (when Bush finds a new political cause, it must always be done immediately), and the Democrats were holding things up. This affair was hilarious if you have no concern about truth and proper management of the government. With no program of his own and little interest in government, he feels free to work all the political angles, but you have to ask yourself if Bush recognizes the seriousness of his responsibilities, or is someone having fun playing games.
The home security department is likely to be a mess, because Bush’s interest does not extend beyond political expediency, confirmed by the unwillingness to fund new initiatives (admittedly hard with an exploding deficit). The massive, slapped together department is the wrong way to go about a serious task. It is almost as if the new department was sabotaged in its creation because the right does not believe in government programs. Eventually, another terrorist attack will be a great political event for Bush, and he can build capital throwing money at whatever area is hit, but the concept is prevention.
Why would we, a democratic nation, be attracted to a man with no compassion for the public good, who supports survival of the fittest laissez faire capitalism that led to the rise of socialism and Communism two hundred years ago. The answer is that he is expert at covering up his true direction, achieved through clever political maneuvering and distracting the public with fears of terrorism and warlike revenge. Social programs will be smothered in a rising federal deficit, exactly the purpose of right wing reactionaries in control of policy. The opportunity to do something about a rotten financial system is already going by the boards, just as these people want. Moderate Republicans, who might have restrained the extremism, have knuckled under, impressed by the right’s winning ways.
The right wing program is impossible to understand until you realize that destroying programs they regard as socialistic is their goal. It is as if our form of liberal democracy, marked by the union of capitalism and governmental regulation in the interest of fairness, had not proven itself. These people want to go back to the jungle, to policies that failed long ago. They recognize that the law of the jungle will not sell in a democracy, so it has to be hidden behind warlike bluster, tax cuts that sabotage social programs, and dishonest numbers. The tax cuts were not intended to give back “your” money, but to destroy a surplus that permitted emotionally hated government spending (anyone looking at the numbers knew the surplus was a temporary bull market phenomenon). Huge deficits are of no concern because they foster the anti-government program. No one knows the consequences of soaring deficits. This president is recklessly playing with our future in support of right wing ideology that is not favored by the large majority of people.
Unanimity gives the right wing a force far beyond its numbers, but a one directional government lacking debate inevitably becomes undemocratic. Employing expertly drawn myths of politically clever people like Bush, they are fooling voters. The sad part is that some right wing programs are fine, I think particularly of tort reform, a serious effort to trim costly bureaucracy and excess in government programs, and overhauling the tax system, but Bush shows no interest in these because they lack political impact.
Reagan believed in the right wing philosophy, but he was a fair person and did not attempt to stuff it down our throats. As a result, not much happened. Cutting social programs is nickel and dime stuff that could help, but takes years of serious effort. Defense offers the only potential for substantial cuts. But the right remains determined and they have learned to work behind the scenes and cover up their actions. These people are both clever and ruthless, they know how to use power once they get it. The right needed a politically astute cover up artist, and they found one. Bush himself seems to believe in little other than that no one ought to pay taxes of more than 25% of income, but that position plays into the right’s hand, and he is happy to lend his support for political assistance. It is testimony to Bush’s absence of vision that a man so devoted to politics, an apparently devoit Christian, with no real interest in right wing causes, could allow himself to be maneuvered in these directions. In fact, Bush is our best hope of preventing right wing extremism. Being intensely political, he shows some appreciation that right wing positions could cost him a second term.
Meanwhile, we are left with a domestic policy of inaction because the right wing program is to tear down. When all is said and done, we are a democracy and the right will lose. A government that lives off misrepresentation will ultimately fail. In both economic and international affairs, this administration is an utter failure. It can use war to distract the public only so long.
If Bush’s domestic policy is a blank in the face of rising problems, foreign policy is a disaster. Bush started out on a strange course, doing his utmost to offend other nations by abrogating old treaties for no apparent purpose and backing out of virtually all worldwide cooperative efforts. Again, this is standard right wing dogma, and it has now come back to haunt him over Iraq.
The overwhelming factor in Bush’s success at home is the war. 9/11 may be the luckiest event in presidential history, and the least lucky for the rest of us. The Bush popularity outside the right wing could not have been sustained without the warrior cover, for the difference between what his administration is doing and what he claims it is doing is just too great. 9/11 came to the rescue. You have to hand it to Bush, he realized the latitude the terrorist attack provided, and its ability to turn him from a bumbling aristocrat into a down home national hero. “War” provides an excuse for politically advantageous propaganda to deceive the public, justified as in the national interest.
Let us go back and look at his war on terrorism, which has rescued a political career headed for the rocks. While it made Bush, the war on terrorism has not amounted to much. Freeing the oppressed people of Afghanistan was never our purpose, it had to be substituted when we failed to get Osama and most of his followers. When the terrorists holed up in Pakistan, Bush chickened out on chasing them down, as promised, and the war was fading away. Now his loud bombastic threats, so politically successful sat home, so outrageously viewed abroad, looked hollow. Something had to be done. Bush pulled another master switch by turning attention from Osama to his father’s old enemy, Saddam. Rumsfeld had been talking about getting Saddam all along, now was obviously the time. Although there has never been any evidence that Saddam participated in international terrorism, he has potential for becoming dangerous, he was a most oppressive ruler, and he had defied the arms control agreement from the beginning. Going after him was a reasonably logical next step. Iraq also had the advantage of offering a big target, when it looked as if terrorists would present no large objectives suitable for our big arms approach.
The war on terrorism was hard to make a real war. A “war like no other war” covered up the reality that al Qaeda was nothing more than a few thousand ragtag religious fanatics (even including other terrorist groups, you are not talking about even a small army). We could not fight them with massive forces, it was a more subtle job. Such a “war” is better seen as a patient police action, using a combination of reaction and prevention. Terrorism is a common phenomenon around the world and many countries have learned to live with it, as we are going to have to.
The Cheney/Rumsfeld warmongers came up with a solution. Using the concept that terrorism can’t survive without state sponsorship, they determined to fight or threaten into submission terrorist sponsoring states, but a base was needed and Afghanistan was not suitable. Iraq was the key: take over Iraq, which we had a reasonable excuse for doing, and use it as a base against the rest of the Arab world. Oil gave Iraq the potential to be a successful economic nation, and we might be able to establish a successful democracy.
Bush then utterly butchered the Iraq program. He led off with his usual lionlike roar of emotional threats directed not only at Saddam, but at anyone questioning the legitimacy of such a move. Overstatement has continued ever since, leading to a failure to make a plain and simple case that was strong without invective. Having alarmed the rest of the world with his fevered ranting, Bush then made the mistake of yielding to Powell and going to the U.N. As delay met delay, and we became ever more shrill, we looked increasingly unhinged to the rest of the world and turned them against us. As a final indignity, we are threatening those who have a vote in the U.N. on proceeding against Iraq. Now we are backed in a corner where we have to go, and alone, or appear weak. Meanwhile we have the earned the hatred of the rest of the world and stirred up a nuclear hornets nest.
What should Bush have done once the decision was made that Iraq was the next step in the war? First, the American people, as well as the rest of the world, needed to be convinced this was the right thing to do. Having looked at the facts, I believe this could have been done, but we never made a reasoned case. Bush screamed about evil ones and imaginary terrors Saddam was about to unleash, blowing the argument with juvenile bluster. The performance was so bad that the rest of the world began to wonder if Bush was not a lot more dangerous than Saddam. Many Americans and most foreigners were turned off. Clinton, for instance, or certainly Albright if Clinton was too hard a pill for them to swallow, could have been enlisted in support after all the troubles they had with Saddam, adding great strength to the argument, but the Bush presidency is all about Bush. He could not pass up the opportunity to swagger. The idea of a joint and thoughtful effort where he would have had to share is completely against his personality. Powell should have been send around the world in a diplomatic effort to re-form the coalition, and while it is doubtful he would have succeeded, he probably could have gotten a promise to sit on the sidelines. In the meantime, we should have been building our forces, the only hope of getting Saddam to give up. Powell was a liability in wanting the UN and was simply wrong that Saddam could be scared into leaving without troops breathing down his neck, but Powell should have been told to get on the team (Powell seems to be the only one that can get away with defying Bush, and if he were not black and the only one in the administration foreigners trust, he would be gone). Meanwhile, Bush continued his effort at intimidation, even going before the U.N. and threatening them with talk of irrelevance. The Bush U.N. speech, seen as great here, was a disaster internationally. You don’t build a coalition by insulting potential allies, a high school graduate knows that. If we had moved ahead it would all be over now. Instead the world has lined up against us, we are supported only by those directly threatened by Saddam (the oil countries in the mideast), and a few bought off others and small countries sucking up to us for one reason or another. The people in every one of our so called coalition partners detest what we are doing, while we blithely brag about all our support. U.S. voters buy the sham, the rest of the world is appalled at our dishonesty. When you put the Iraq package together, it is difficult to recall a greater diplomatic fuck up in the history of the world.
The idea of fighting the war on terrorism through a takeover of Iraq is intriguing, and it might work, but the odds are long. Sitting right in the middle of the Moslem terrorist world allows us to strike, but it also makes us highly vulnerable to terrorism. A military government in the land of the enemy is an ideal set up for guerrilla warfare and terrorism. It is not unlike our situation in Viet Nam, not to mention Somalia and Lebanon. It could work, but there is plenty of reason to bet it won’t. Given the added factor that the cost will be huge and ongoing at a time our deficit is soaring, the wisdom of the move is even more questionable. It is a reckless gamble by the combination of a president who has never shown any willingness to think out problems and a militarist clique that has taken over our foreign policy. The polls say it is good politics, and that makes it right for Bush.
Another important factor weighs against invading Iraq, the moral one. The Iraq invasion and what will follow is devastating for our position as the great land of peace, principles, and fairness. Strange that a group of evangelically inclined Bible pounders could go off on such a course, but the grouping of militarism, anti-government, and evangelical Christianity characterizes the hard right. What they overlook is the tragic break with our history and the principles that made us great. It not only saddens the rest of the world, but turns them against us. Imagine the U.S., founder and inspiration of the U.N., who worked for 58 years for peace with its help, threatening its very existence to satisfy our thirst for revenge about 9/11. It’s a very sad day for America.
An even more tragic consequence of Bush’s loud-mouthed menacing is the sudden re-emergence of a nuclear threat. In our college days after the war we envisioned a chaotic world of A-bombs in the hands of irresponsible small nations. It never happened because the world was mostly at peace and responsible countries made an effort to keep A-bombs away from that sort of country. Suddenly it is real because of the threat we pose to the rest of the world. When you parade about threatening everyone, the other side is going to look for protection. The only protection against us is the A-bomb. Why didn’t we go after Pakistan, where al Qaeda retreated? We felt its government would control terrorists, but after all the threats about harboring, others took note that Pakistan had the bomb. The “axis of evil” is probably the dumbest remark ever in a state of the union address. For a dramatic sound bite, he neglected to consider what Iran and North Korea were likely to do after being singled out. I doubt any other president in history would have acted so irresponsibly. Iran had to have accelerated its nuclear program and we have seen the reaction in North Korea. Bush had already threatened the 1994 nuclear control agreement with North Korea, apparently just because he decided he didn’t like its head man, or anything accomplished by Bill Clinton. To compound the idiocy, we refused even to talk to them, though from every indication North Korea appears to be looking for a bribe, something similar, though undoubtedly more costly, than the agreement Clinton worked out. This is arrogant stupidity on a grand scale. Bush may have accomplished the inconceivable, let the nuclear genie out of the bottle. If it was a Democrat, the right wing would be screaming impeachment, but Bush has the public worked up to such a state of blind patriotism that few noticed this incredibly folly.
If history is a guide, the Bush administration foreign policy is headed for a serious accident. The foundation of that policy is to get our way by war or the threat of war. These people are off in groundbreaking direction (for us) that has historically been tragic for any nation going down that path. The haughty, uncooperative, muscle flexing aggression probably originates with Cheney, and Bush glorifies in the Falstaff role of muscle flexing leader. His fixation on himself is the clue to Bush’s willingness to do something so stupid. The precipitous break with our peaceful honest broker tradition is rapidly making us the most hated nation in the history of the world. How can the world’s most hated nation be other than an inspiration to terrorists?
The disastrously flawed international policy is part arrogance, and part Bush sounding off for votes at home. Loud-mouthed bully-boy talk by the leader of the world’s most powerful nation could hardly be more counterproductive, but it has succeeded in driving the American people into a kind of get ’em at all costs mood that generates popularity for himself. As a nation we have reached that peculiar state of mind where doing anything thoughtful is shouted down as appeasement.
Few of us at home, though many overseas, have noted that the Bush approach – playing on the psychology of revenge, threats aimed at raising the temperature of the people, heavy doses of propaganda about questionable successes and impending dangers, and, above all, focusing attention on ogre villains – is a political program developed by none other than Adolph Hitler. Hitler succeeded because of the depressed state of morale in Germany following World War I; Bush is succeeding because of the shock to American’s feeling of safety at home. Bush has surprising personal similarities to Hitler, such as the intense interest in politics and disinterest in the governmental process, an insistence on absolute non-discussive loyalty, and self-important talk of being a great leader (embarrassing for a normal person). The effort is to transform the boasting into an image of tough guy fighting leader in whom we should place unquestioning patriotic trust. Sadly, it is working for Bush, as it did for Adolph. I do not want to make out Bush and Hitler as the same when they are obviously different (Hitler would be insulted to be equated with such an airhead). The point is that the political tactics being employed by the Bush administration are right out of Hitler’s book, and Bush is ideally suited to carrying them out.
The Bush role is to sell a Hitler-like course to the American people, and it is altogether sad that he has succeeded, while his impetuous rhetoric hastens our loss of esteem. We are going to win the battles, but lose the war, for nations that have behaved this way in the past (the you-know-who lookalike again) have always come to grief. The old saying, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, is coming home to roost in America. It may be the saddest time in our history. Already the tough talk is beginning to bring on one crisis after another.
In all the politicking, Bush has become a man who never tells it straight. He relates non-taxed dividends to job creation and helping small business, though the thread is thin and the major beneficiaries elsewhere. Prevarication is less noticeable in one whose public conversation amounts to silly utterances about evil doers and tax cuts as the answer to all our problems. Politicians are not known for telling the truth, what is troublesome is that Bush has somehow created a trust that allows him to get away with it. Although he changes the facts to suit the occasion, he never changes direction, and the fixation is not seen as narrow-minded, but great leadership.
The image of leadership is a big thing with Bush, perhaps because he is such an unlikely leader. He is a man of absolutely no accomplishment in life OTHER than the remarkable achievement, all the more remarkable for his lack of prior accomplishment, of getting elected governor of Texas and then of the U.S. No other president has achieved such a miracle on so few credentials. On the leadership issue, he is the only man I have ever seen who constantly praises his own leadership, as if it can be willed by advertising. He brags about it, casting every decision as a great achievement. Bob Woodward’s interviews with Bush in his strange new book, Bush at War, center on self-congratulation to a sickening degree, while also revealing his detachment from events and intense devotion to “communications”, the euphemism for politics. All this self-back patting would be comical if he were not our president. This is a man who takes criticism as disloyalty, like a spoiled child who has to be right. Bush has an amazing talent for creating an impression of strength, yet most of the talk is misrepresentative justification for tax cuts or overstated finger pointing at evil doers (again reminiscent of Hitler). Many of those who listen to the words rather than being carried away by the emotion are appalled, and can’t stand listening to him. I felt the same, so boastful, so obnoxiously pleased with himself, so black and white, so repetitive, so sophomoric, but now I listen, amazed at his gall and the willingness of the American people to fall for the jingoistic braggadocio.
Our approach to the war on terror is all emotion, lacking in any effort to get at the underlying causes of Moslem hatred. Smash ’em and forget ’em, they are just evil (admittedly, dealing with people whose leaders want to go back to the seventh century is an experience we are not equipped to deal with). Eventually someone is going to research the obvious question – why do they hate us so intensely and what can we do about it (apparently the “communications” staff did ask the question, but on failing to come up with an answer – where in hell did they look – forgot it).
Bush’s lack of compunction about misrepresentation is not unusual for a politician, but he does it as a matter of routine, and avoids being caught because the public trusts him, though the very actions prove him unworthy of that trust. He and his people have no shame, to them it is winning the great game of politics, and they cover up their true intentions with clever talk that when stripped down is simply lies. Eventually this kind of thing has to backfire. It’s like stealing, you can’t get away with it forever. Voters may be gullible, but they can be fooled only so long. At some point the legitimate press is going to get tired of this stuff and turn on Bush.
If you think about it, the Bush act is some where between amazing and appalling (the Hitler look alike again). The fact that he has gotten away with childish foot stomping and dirty political tricks encourages more of the same. This course must lead to serious trouble. This is a well brought up, well educated, son of a president, yet his actions in no way resemble those of a gentleman, or someone interested in governing in a fair and judicious manner.
Bush will fascinate historians like no other president in our history, especially if he gets a second term. It is impossible to imagine a man more opposite from Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t go to church, but thought constantly about the downtrodden. Bush is a religious freak, but couldn’t care less about the downtrodden. Who is in fact more Christian? We have never had a president who said one thing and did another to the extent of this one, or a president who endlessly boasted and carried on about his marvelous leadership. No doubt we have had many egotistical presidents, but they did not advertise. I doubt any president has been more reliant on instinct (and he’s proud of it!). Imagine relying on instinct when his decisions affect the entire world. Reliance on instinct probably reflects a lack of maturity that leads to fear of careful consideration. A man of conviction would want to participate in policy matters and be willing to discuss his actions. Bush does not evaluate, he reacts emotionally. That results in stirring talk, but dumb decisions.
The Bush bluster and bullying is characteristic of those with deep seated lack of confidence, a bit like Lyndon Johnson without the brains and experience in government. The penchant for threatening anyone who gets in his way is not a sign of inner strength. One of his more interesting characteristics is a lack of awareness of who he is. If you want to make him mad, refer to his patrician background. Apparently he sees himself as a man of the people, even though his lack of interest in social programs and emphasis on tax cuts for the well off starkly reveal the patrician point of view. It seems impossible that he could not recognize ending taxes on dividends as a huge break for the privileged few, a virulent form of class warfare, to use the term he uses for its opponents. This self-interested way of seeing things is not unusual for a patrician, but it is amazing for someone able to win the presidency in modern times. Steve Forbes is in a similar position, but his arrogant fruitcake demeanor could never win. This suggests that Bush may actually believe some of the baloney he spouts, that it isn’t all politics.
Bush psychology may be overdone, for he is a devotedly political animal. The bombast reflects not just an absence of character, but is directed at domestic political consumption, making Bush a combination of under-confident blusterer and political Machiavellian. Whatever the case, it is interesting that the wanna-be cheerleader of prep school days now behaves like a swaggering football hero. As I say, he will be a fascinating study for historians.
How much permanent damage can the Bush crowd do? Unless voters wise up about the bad situation we are now in with the rest of the world, and that domestic programs are aimed at boosting the rich and destroying social programs, he is likely to be reelected. Four more years and the damage could be serious. We will end up in a dark corner internationally, saddled with a crushing deficit and shrunken dollar, regularly struck by terrorists. My own inclination is that by the time of a second term, voters must recognize an undemocratic domestic policy and a shipwrecked foreign policy. The increasingly crowded Democrat candidate field reflects a feeling of looming catastrophe. But Bush is much cleverer than I thought, a true master of misrepresentation. I have been reading a book on Hitler, and it is amazing how his popularity continued to grow by means of rabble-rousing speeches, suppression of free speech, and originally bloodless military victories. Germans ate up his line, just as Americans are Bush’s today. But we are not the traumatized Germans of the 1930s, we will come to our senses.
While it seems strange that a man from the eastern establishment, with an internationalist father of conventional domestic and economic thinking, should have Bush’s positions, they are simply standard right wing dogma. Despite his background, Bush is a Texan at heart, and we should not be surprised that he holds the same beliefs as Dick Armey, Tom Delay, and Phil Gramm. These positions can be summarized as less government and less taxes on the domestic front and a kind of isolationist aggression internationally. While I see tax cuts as playing to his fat cat friends, with income and taxes so concentrated today in the upper few, any tax reduction must necessarily go largely to the benefit of the high brackets. This very fact, though, suggests that tax cuts are not the answer to today’s troubled economy.
The problem for Bush personally and for us with him as our leader is that he is a weak man, as revealed in a frivolous past of non accomplishment and the present self-absorbtion, self-congratulation, unwillingness to debate or answer for his actions, and the constant deception. When confronted with a grand plan for action in the war on terror, and having to choose between different directions proposed by Rumsfeld and Powell, his weakness meant that he was bound to make bad decisions. Some combination of doubt and shortage of comprehension or thought inevitably led him astray. I think it likely that the Bush presidency will be one of the saddest in our history. Hopefully, mercifully for both him and us, it will be short.