It's Bush's Fault
Nobody will be surprised if the next time a hurricane hits the U.S., President Obama blames the devastation on George W. Bush. Whatever the nature of the bad news, Obama invariably points to Bush, who has become Obama's shield against all responsibility. But in one respect, Obama would be right to find fault with his predecessor: Bush was indeed partially to blame for the disaster that was his own presidency. He did a great deal of damage to himself -- both to his presidency and to the Republican brand.
George W. Bush came to power determined to rule as a gentleman, sticking to the good manners imbibed from childhood in the household of Barbara and George Sr. He studiously ignored the slings and arrows from the Bill Clinton crowd and their allies in the media. He insisted on showing goodwill to his predecessor and the Democratic opposition, keeping quite a few Clinton political appointees in place to demonstrate that he was not just a Republican president, but the president of the entire American people.
Contrary to his expectations, the opposition didn't appreciate the gesture. The Democrats pocketed the favor and went on the mudslinging offensive against the new president.
Bush took the duties of his office seriously and thought, erroneously, that the opposition shared his views -- a typical mistake of decent people projecting their own thinking onto others. But the Democrats did not share the 43rd president's attitude. Bush perceived the presidency as a chance to serve the country, while the opposition saw it as a social engineering tool and a source of patronage. Bush believed that politics stopped at the water's edge, but the Democrats knew better and went right on sabotaging his foreign policy.
Bush thought that the barrage from the left was just a game -- that at the end of the day, the adversaries would shake hands and be pals again. But the Democrats were dead serious. Vilification of the president as a nincompoop who had come to power by hook or by crook, who was "selected" rather than elected and was thus illegitimate, was the centerpiece of the Democrats' game plan for returning to power.
And as luck would have it, the "dolt" refused to fight back and virtually surrendered to his tormentors. He thought his noble intentions would be appreciated, while they interpreted his inaction as a sign that he did not think his position worth defending by any means necessary, thus proving them right.
When it became apparent that a protracted war in Iraq was in the offing, the Democrats in Congress turned viciously on the president. He could have forcefully reminded the country how warlike those selfsame Democrats had been, how they had fallen all over themselves to show their support for the president, how the Senate Democrats had insisted on voting for the war not once, but twice, to prove their hawkish disposition. But he kept mum and listened in dignified silence as the Joe Bidens and Hillary Clintons castigated him and did everything in their power to thwart the war on terror he valiantly carried on in the face of bitter opposition. Bush thought of the national interest; the Democrats thought of their political advantage. And since Bush did not fight back, their whoppers, magnified a thousandfold by the megaphone of the mainstream media, took hold in the popular imagination and became accepted history.
Bush watched the media betraying, one after another, the most vital state secrets, such as the NSA terrorist surveillance program, the CIA secret prisons, and the disruption of terrorist financing through the Belgian "SWIFT" consortium, to name just a few -- but again, he did nothing to put an end to this bacchanal of treason. It was nothing short of aiding and abetting the enemy and on the face of it prosecutable, but the president's respect for the First Amendment was too great to try to "muzzle" the media.
Didn't Bush realize that by his passivity he was in effect condoning and encouraging the press intent on bringing him down? Maybe he did, but his staid upbringing and lofty views took the upper hand. Gentlemen stay above the fray -- stiff upper lip and all that. Meanwhile, the media, who openly boasted of their disdain for patriotism, went right on helping al-Qaeda, boisterously celebrating each revelation damaging to their country, awarding each other Pulitzers and patting themselves on the back at the sight of their enemy's discomfiture.
Yes indeed: it was Bush, not the Islamist terrorists, whom they saw as their enemy. People are rarely capable of panoramic vision; the goal right in front of them looms so large as to reduce everything else to insignificance.
The list could go on and on, but the picture is clear. George W. Bush is an honest, honorable, patriotic gentleman. That acerbic genius, Heinrich Heine, once made a sarcastic observation: "Honesty is a wonderful thing if everybody around me is honest and I am the only one who is dishonest." In that sense, Bush was a dream come true for unscrupulous opponents. His enemies must have been thanking their lucky stars to be blessed with such as ideal adversary, who insisted on scrupulously observing the Marquis of Queensbury Rules while being hit below the belt.
FDR's Secretary of War Henry Stimson reportedly reacted to the news that U.S. cryptographers had broken the Japanese diplomatic code by archly observing, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail." As a private citizen, he certainly was entitled to his view; as secretary of war, he hurt his country by reveling in his arrogant goodness. National interest was paramount and should have trumped personal predilections. So, too, Mr. Bush had every right to behave as he saw fit -- but President Bush had no right to stick to his private code of honor if it ran counter to the national interest.
The only silver lining to this sad story is that it should be treated as a parable with a moral. As the wise Romans used to say, "forewarned is forearmed." The next Republican to become president (hopefully in November) should study the travails of the 43rd president as an object lesson. If, following Bush's example, he chooses to play footsie with the "loyal opposition," he will inevitably run into the buzzsaw of calumny, lies, and subversion that would doom his presidency. His chances of success will be much greater if he demonstrates his willingness to give as good as he gets. Otherwise, we'd better prepare for another shipwreck.
Bush wanted to be loved and respected. He indulged his enemies, but they reciprocated with hatred and disdain. Niccolò Machiavelli warned his Prince that it is better to be feared than loved. Karl Rove, on the other hand, advised his president not to respond to the attacks, turning the other cheek as befits a nice Christian gentleman.
Between the 16th-century Florentine and the 21st-century Texan, the former came out with the better counsel. (And don't forget that Karl Rove, whom President George W. Bush called "my brain," belatedly admitted that his advice had been ruinous.)