October 17, 2005
Will Sorkin Save Us?
This strikes me as very important:
THEY'RE saying the President, spending inordinate time working on handling his multiple problems of Iraq, Supreme Court, Karl Rove, gas prices, sliding polls, economy, has begun rehearsing answers to questions that might come up at a press conference. More importantly, he's even watching reruns of "West Wing."
If Bush is really indulging in some season 1-4 West Wing, this whole administration could turn on a dime. All the rest of us watch the Bartlett years and quietly wonder if we could ever work in the White House. George W. Bush, on the other hand, can simply decide to become Jed Bartlett, to rise above these puny misanthropes critiquing his Court choice and join the pantheon of fictional, transcendentally high-minded leaders. Hey, beats indentured servitude to James Dobson.
September 15, 2005
President What's Next?
If we're going to attack Bush for being childish, not knowing the diplomatic protocol for a pee break is really the least of our worries (incidentally, Bush should've just asked me, as, according to Google, I am the authority on all things bladder-related). I'd be much more concerned with the apparent merging of his ADD and Great Man of History pretensions.
When I was kid, I figured life must be episodic, and if I could just land a job as a hero, I could do something stupendous every week! But, as it turned out, doing great things takes lots of work, meticulous planning, and a fair amount of drudgery. You can't save the world in 30 minutes, rest at the ranch for a fortnight, and return, next Tuesday, for a new installment of My Fantastically Exciting Life. Remaking the world requires you to stay up late.
With Iraq decidedly unsaved, Bush now knows that. But if this is right, it may not matter. What worries me is that he's already extracted his Manichean satisfaction from that confrontation and, now bored by its inexorable descent into sectarian division, is willing to leave the Iraq cliffhanger floating and move onto the next cosmic clash. Little could be more dangerous. One of the requirements for holding the modern American presidency should be the possession of a serious attention span. If you want to engage in the sort of global remodeling that Bush does, it needs to be near inhuman -- they should be able to synthesize Ritalin from your nail clippings. That George seems more interested in knocking down the blocks rather than slowly, carefully, putting them back together is quite scary. That he seems ready to play Godzilla on another set is downright terrifying.
September 08, 2005
Man of the People
Remember when Clinton's high-priced haircut allegedly (which is to say "didn't, but the right said it did") choked up traffic at LAX? Well Bush, fresh from beating Ronald Reagan's two-term record for most days spent on vacation, has easily assumed first place in the "Massive Inconveniences Caused By Presidential Whim" category as well:
The Naval Medical Center in San Diego's Balboa Park was shut down to accommodate a visit by President George W. Bush Aug. 30, RAW STORY has learned, forcing patients to cancel chemotherapy treatments and hundreds of scheduled patient visits.
"The pharmacy is closed. The emergency room is closed. Even chemotherapy patients will not be allowed on base," the daughter of one patient told RAW STORY shortly before the President's arrival. "My mother is a patient...She was contacted and told that her appointment had been canceled and would be rescheduled later…All civilian personnel and patients will not be allowed on base."
Hundreds of patient visits were cancelled as a result, she said. Patients and staff at the Naval Medical Center voiced concern over the shut-down of non-critical patient care services for a photo op that never even materialized. None were willing to go on record by name for fear of retaliation, such as loss of jobs or revocation of healthcare privileges.
Pay special attention to that last part. Clinton called Cristophe, did get a haircut, and didn't hold up air traffic. Bush called a photo-op, did not get his photo-op, and did keep sick patients from chemotherapy. Is there a single area where this guy does not demonstrate towering incompetence?
Cult of Personality
Matt on the CBS poll:
58 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of the hurricane, and just 38 percent approve. But consider this -- only 20 percent say the federal government's handling of the disaster was adequate, while 77 percent say it wasn't. 24 percent say FEMA's response was adequate and 70 percent disagree. How is it, then, that Bush is rated so much better than the federal government he heads, and the disaster agency run by his appointee, the much-beloved "Brownie?" This is part-and-parcel of a very frightening cult of personality that's been erected around the person of George W. Bush ever since 9/11 with the effective complicity of the rightwing media.
He goes on to list a couple more instances where otherwise bright right-wingers seemed to lose their senses and rush to dump blame wherever Bush isn't in a desperate attempt to keep their honored leader morally pristine. The whole protocol reminds me of something a British Financial Times reporter said in "Journeys With George". When asked what's surprised him on the campaign trail he said, paraphrased, that:
I am simply shocked at how much Americans don't like politics. You walk into a room at 4am filled with screaming supporters and you ask them why they back this man and they don't give you a single policy, a single program, a single anything other than: "I like him. I think he's a great man."
That's reflected itself in polling in a rather interesting way. For the past couple of years, Americans have banished the Bush administration into the nether regions of public opinion on most every issue -- they don't like him on health care, on Iraq, on education, on the economy, on the environment, on much of anything. The only thing they do like him on is terrorism. Terrorism, of course, is the only policy initiative they've no effective way to evaluate. You can see how schools are doing, hear what teachers think, track your premiums, look up the number of uninsured, watch the news out of Iraq, and generally make judgments on what you see. Terrorism offers no similar benchmarks, the idea that a lack of domestic attacks matters is to say that we were doing great fighting terrorism on 9/10/2001. So, in the absence of any data that could make up their minds, they tend to assume Bush is doing a superb job on the most weighty issue of the day, even as they judge him a failure in every other aspect.
It is a cult of personality. Bush has managed to create a heuristic of himself that in no way accords to his policy performance, and what he's proven is that a good heuristic is significantly stronger than all but the most undeniable dose of reality. Americans know what they think of Bush on most issues, but till now, those judgments haven't infiltrated their general opinion of the man. Maybe that's changing. If the CBS Poll is to be believed, though, it's not changing that much.
September 05, 2005
Bush Acts Quickly ... When He Wants To
I was taken aback at how quickly Bush rolled out his decision following Rehnquist's death, compared to how quickly he's rolled out everything else lately. I tell ya, when it's something the Court of George II cares about, they move fast.
I've had a lot of coffee and I'm in a conspiracy kind of mood. So the Bush Administration wants Roberts confirmed as chief justice of the United States before October 3. In his press conference, he kept emphasizing the need to move quickly.
Of course he wants Congress to move fast. If Congress is all tied up with confirming Roberts, whose nomination has even higher stakes now that he is primed to be chief justice, they won't be investigating the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
All of Congress should say "Hold your horses - we've got other business to clean up here!" I'm concerned that too many members of Congress will be thrilled to wash their hands of the unpleasantness of Katrina. Congress should hold off on everything that doesn't have to do with Katrina. Katrina's victims and a thorough investigation into the emergency response or lack thereof must be the top priority.
To anyone who says differently, John Roberts is young. He can wait for his turn at the top because there's a whole bunch of people in line ahead of him who need a little attention from the government.
September 02, 2005
A Small Man
I have to say, none of this really makes sense to me. America is not a country that lacks for cars; why isn't the Superdome totally evacuated? America is not a country that lacks for copters -- why does CNN keep spotting stranded families waving sheets for help? For that matter, why don't we just conscript CNN's copters to help them? We are not a country that lacks for food, so why aren't trucks barreling in with rations? We are not a country that lacks for homes, why isn't Bush going on TV and, with the Astrodome full, asking private citizens to open their doors? For that matter, why doesn't Bush just fire back up the network of evangelical churches he used to win the election? They could sleep thousands in their pews and call on their congregations to provide hundreds of thousands of beds -- and they would. Why isn't Bush coming on TV and asking Americans to send blankets, to send canned foods, to donate to a relief effort, anything? Why isn't he leading, why isn't America responding, why do we all seem so paralyzed?
Oliver had a good post on this, but it bears repeating. George W. Bush is not up to the task of leadership. That's not said as a criticism, actually -- I am not up to the task of dancing, or running marathons. We all have failings, and Bush's essential flaw is an inability to project himself, an inability to grow in dimension during a crisis, an inability to sense that catastrophes serve as opportunities for strengthening the American community. I dislike Bush for mean-spiritedness, for his incompetence, for his smugness. But I deplore him for his smallness. That the 2004 election was a 51-49 affair is shocking. Had John McCain won in 2000, his response to 9/11 would have toasted the Democratic party for the next 20 years. Had Al Gore been in office, his leadership in the moments after would've changed the world, or at least the international community. Both of them would have brought Americans together. But Bush simply invited us to malls, wedged us apart, snookered us into a disastrous war that didn't need to be fought. For a President to hold office during a crisis of that magnitude and do as little, both socially and politically, as Bush did is almost unprecedented.
I don't blame Bush for Katrina -- he does not control the weather. And I don't blame him for the levees -- even with full-funding, they weren't scheduled to be completed for years, the levee that broke was actually one of the renovated ones, and so on; his funding decisions were criminal, but they would only have been causal five years from now. I blame him for the national guard being absent, but that's a secondary problem. What I blame him for, what I hate him for, is for not stepping up to the job of President right now. For being a small man when a big one is required. For offering a laundry list of supplies-on-the-way when his job is uniting the American people and helping them give aid and comfort to their countrymen. A President can't stop a disaster, but he can coalesce the citizenry to ease its aftermath, he can take catastrophe and use it to reknit the nation's community.
Bush didn't. He didn't do it here and he didn't do it on 9/11. In America, great things can come out of great calamity. Bush has had two opportunities to create something lasting, he has failed both times. For most else, I forgive him. For that, I never will.
August 31, 2005
The American Pie President
Nancy Nall takes the point I was circuitously making in my metaphor-heavy post (hey -- sometimes you just feel like using some imagery!) last night and shortens it into a two paragraph indictment. Well done! And her question stands: why would Bush's handlers, on the day when new Orleans was experiencing perhaps the greatest tragedy in American history, let him be photographed goofing around with a guitar? Why would they let him out at all? If he needed to leave his Ranch Set, they should've forced him to go to a Church Set (it's right across the lot, just take a left when you reach Karl Rove's trailer). Very weird.
Unless Bush's handlers are themselves being handled. Digby's made this point before, but more and more, I'm think it's right. Second term Bush sees himself as a political war god. He is invincible. A senior. Class president. He already got accepted to college (thanks, dad!). He's the big man on campus. Nobody's going to expel him. Hell, nobody's going to discipline him! He doesn't have to listen to his teachers, his guidance counselors, or even his friends. He can do what he wants.
And doesn't that seem to be what he's doing? A month on the ranch, a bike ride with Lance Armstrong, a late-night little league softball game, a quixotic quest to kill Social Security, a play date with country rockers. He's begun to use the presidency to, well, have a little fun. And when Cindy Sheehan tried to ruin VaCay and he said she couldn't detract from his life, he meant it. None of this can. Bush didn't want to be President, he wanted to win the presidency, crush the Democrats, beat his father's record. And so he has! And now, while New Orleans flood and Iraq burns, it's time to enjoy it. He's hired people to deal with the crises, he's got enterprising freshmen completing his homework, he's earned this.
How many dead?
My poll numbers are where?
The 2006 elections could do what?
August 15, 2005
Vacation's All I Ever Wanted...
"But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."
...In addition to the two-hour bike ride, Bush's Saturday schedule included an evening Little League Baseball playoff game, a lunch meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a nap, some fishing and some reading.
Okay: I get the bike ride, fishing's no surprise, a lunch "meeting" with Condi doesn't sound any alarms, I can see Bush retiring with a good Tom Clancy novel, but a Little League Playoff game? What? It's not like Bush has a kid in the tournament. What's the President doing spending hours watching a bunch of 10 year olds toss baseballs around?
It's one thing to relax on your vacation, it's another thing to be so goddamn bored that you mosey over to the local elementary school to watch whatever's going on there. I can deal with the fishing and the biking and the reading, but there comes a point when he's just rubbing his aversion to work in our faces.
You, Sir, Are No Ronald Reagan
From WaPo's editorial:
Back in 1987, when Mr. Reagan applied his veto to what was generally known at the time as the highway and mass transit bill, he was offended by the 152 earmarks for pet projects favored by members of Congress. But on Wednesday Mr. Bush signed a transportation bill containing no fewer than 6,371 earmarks. Each one of these, as Mr. Reagan understood but Mr. Bush apparently doesn't, amounts to a conscious decision to waste taxpayers' dollars. One point of an earmark is to direct money to a project that would not receive money as a result of rational judgments based on cost-benefit analyses.
Mr. Bush, who had threatened to veto wasteful spending bills, chose instead to cave in. He did so despite the fact that in addition to a record number of earmarks the transportation bill came with a price tag that he had once called unacceptable. The bill has a declared cost of $286 billion over five years plus a concealed cost of a further $9 billion; Mr. Bush had earlier drawn a line in the sand at $256 billion, then drawn another line at $284 billion. Asked to explain the president's capitulation, a White House spokesman pleaded that at least this law would be less costly than the 2003 Medicare reform. This is a classic case of defining deviancy down.
August 09, 2005
Worse Than Good
I think Cindy Sheehan is proof that the White House's much-vaunted political operation isn't an ounce as savvy as we've been led to believe. If these guys were smart, they wouldn't let the grieving mother of an Iraq veteran camp out in a tent at the Crawford gates while fielding a thousand media interviews; it's a public relations disaster. They'd have gotten her cold drinks, a hotel room, and promised a meeting two days hence. Then they'd have had some freed Iraqis whose children Saddam had tortured and murdered as punishment for chewing bubble gum fly out. The Iraqi parents would be immediately shuttled to CIndy where, with quivering voices and many tears, they'd try to tell her that her son died so others could live, that her son died so others could live free.
But no, this stubborn group is just letting her roast in the Texas son, furious that the woman would dare invade Bush's vacation sanctum and try to force him into feeling personal pain over the loss of her son. Whether they judge her right or wrong, common sense would dictate they get her inside and away from cameras. But common sense is routinely trounced by Bush's truculence, and, in this case, political savvy got knocked out right along with it.