[[P O L I T I C S]] * It’s hard to take seriously the National Enquirer’s report that George W. Bush, “faced with the biggest crisis of his political life ... has hit the bottle again.” And my skepticism doesn’t derive exclusively from the fact that the Enquirer is known for its assiduous tarting-up of reality, but also because the story goes on to claim that Bush, “who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday,” has been led back to the bottle by heartfelt grief. The Enquirer quotes “a Washington source” as saying, “The war in Iraq, the loss of American lives, has deeply affected him. He takes every soldier’s life personally. It has left him emotionally drained. ... And now with the worst domestic crisis in his administration over Katrina, you pray his drinking doesn’t go out of control.”
OK, I can believe that Bush, who’s been coddled along through life, would be under considerable pressure these days, having to prove his competence, and that such strain might make him fearful and angry, as stories have alleged. But I don’t buy the image of Dubya crying into a shot glass full of Jim Beam because 1,910 U.S. soldiers have died so far in his Iraq war, or because much of New Orleans has to be wrung out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There’s no way I can picture the arrogant Bush imitating his fellow Texan, Lyndon Johnson, who agonized over the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. As Nick Kotz writes in Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America, “At times, when Johnson sat with visitors in the Oval Office, he would weep openly as he read from the previous day’s casualty lists.”
Bush is simply too detached from the consequences of his decisions, and too righteous behind the veil of his religiosity, to be “deeply affected” by deaths in Mesopotamia or along the Gulf Coast. He “doesn’t do casualty lists. Nor, apparently, does he cry,” according to Robert Bryce, author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.
But if the prez doesn’t generate grief, he’s certainly fielding it from all quarters--conservative as well as liberal:
Columnist Robert Novak, writing about last weekend’s annual Aspen, Colorado, conference sponsored by the GOP-friendly New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Company: “For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem-cell research, population control, the Iraq war and, especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections.”
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, responding to a poster who had blasted Bush’s new Republican critics: “We all have to make judgments and I know few people who wouldn’t have preferred a better choice last November. But I think we had also learned by last November that Bush never listens to criticism (except, perhaps, from his wife); that his re-election would confirm him in all the worst judgment calls of his presidency; that his administration was slowly killing off conservatism as we had known it; it was manifestly incompetent and immune to correction; and that the only responsible thing was therefore to back Kerry as the lesser of two evils. I think Kerry would have made a pretty poor president. But Bush was already clearly on course for disaster (and had already made a basket case of Iraq). I wish I was being proven wrong. At least now I feel a little less lonely.”
Columnist/author Bob Herbert in The New York Times: “Maybe, just maybe, the public is beginning to see through the toxic fog of fantasy, propaganda and deliberate misrepresentation that has been such a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, which is in danger of being judged by history as one of the worst of all time. ... There is a general sense now that things are falling apart. The economy was already faltering before Katrina hit. Gasoline prices are starting to undermine the standard of living of some Americans, and a full-blown home-heating-oil crisis could erupt this winter. The administration’s awful response to the agony of the Gulf Coast has left most Americans believing that we are not prepared to cope with a large terrorist attack. And Osama bin Laden is still at large. This is what happens when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who’d be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame. You’d never use that criterion when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country.”
Self-avowed Libertarian poster “Mineral” at the RedState.org Web site: “Has Bush honestly done anything meaningful other than give verbal and some financial support (faith-based initiative, revoking federal funds for ‘family planning’) to defend the family and our civic culture? I would agree that our national offense is definitely strong, but as for our defense, well, if we were attacked on our home soil today, let’s just say I wouldn’t count on federal help for at least a week. I’m not saying we aren’t fighting the right war in the right place (still undecided; history will tell us the answer to that one), but the homeland defense front doesn't seem much stronger than on 9/11. That being said, the President has not done active damage to homeland defense or to preservation of the American family and culture. He has, however, knowingly done active damage to the fiscal health of the USA as well as to the effort to shrink government. Not just abandonment, but active damage. And I am glad more people are willing to draw the line in the sand.”
Right-wing author/commentator Ann Coulter: “Bush has already fulfilled all his campaign promises to liberals--and then some! He said he’d be a ‘compassionate conservative,’ which liberals interpreted to mean that he would bend to their will, enact massive spending programs, and be nice to liberals. When Bush won the election, that sealed the deal. It meant the Democrats won. Consequently, Bush has enacted massive new spending programs, obstinately refused to deal with illegal immigration, opposed all conservative Republicans in their primary races, and invited Teddy Kennedy over for movie night. He’s even sent his own father to socialize with aging porn star Bill Clinton.”
Mike Whitney at the Information Clearing House site: “Disaster follows Bush like a shadow. It is the one inescapable fact that haunts his 58 years, and it should provide some meager relief for those who believe that he and his vile regime cannot be brought down. Just look around; Iraq, Afghanistan, Enron, Cheney’s energy-papers, the deficits, the courts, the UN, Israel-Palestine, New Orleans, the corporate-corruption, the war-profiteering, the incompetence, the lies; everything Bush touches is reduced to rubble. No institution, however protected, can withstand the onslaught of his withering company; the vast wreckage extends in every direction. ‘Character is fate,’ Marcus Aurelius said; it is a straight line drawn from a man’s birth to his final hour. Some men will fail in everything they do and there is no force in the universe that can alter their destiny. Harken, Arbusto, Spectrum, the Texas Rangers and now the United States of America; all following the predictable downward spiral into the muck. The trajectory cannot be amended by simply putting down the bottle. Failure is an indelible blotch, like the mark of Cain, forever embossed on the soul of its victim. Its part of Bush’s genetic-code, as integral to the whole mechanism as the cocky-drawl or the lumbering gait.”
The right-wing American Spectator magazine: “Publicly, the White House will tell you that it intends to push ahead with two of its big legislative issues throughout the fall: making permanent the first term tax cuts and Social Security reform. ... But at this stage of the game, barring some imaginative political moves that bear some resemblance to the Bush Administration circa 2002, Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some longtime Bush team members in various Cabinet level departments say this Administration is done for.”
Poster Josh Yelon at Daniel W. Drenzer’s blog, writing about conservatives who have suddenly turned on Bush: “Funny, these are the same guys who idolized him for the first five years of his presidency. What changed, all of a sudden? Certainly not Bush, he is still acting the same way he has his entire career. What’s changed is that after five years of presidency, the elections are finally over. It is now safe to criticise Bush, because such criticism can’t possibly matter any more--it can’t affect his re-election chances. Forgive me if I don’t perceive this as responsible conservatism. Responsibility would have been criticising him before it’s too late to do anything about his weaknesses. Responsibility would have been getting Mike Brown out of there before Katrina hit. Responsibility would have been getting Rumsfeld out of there before Iraq was a total loss. What we’re seeing now isn’t just too little, too late--it’s intentionally too little, too late. The criticism was intentionally postponed until it no longer mattered.”
Commentator and former Reagan special assistant Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Bush started spending after 9/11. Again, anything to avoid a second level fight that distracts from the primary fight, the war on terror. That is, Mr. Bush had his reasons. They were not foolish. At the time they seemed smart. But four years later it is hard for a conservative not to protest. Some big mistakes have been made. ... Mr. Bush has abandoned all rhetorical ground. He never even speaks of high spending. He doesn’t argue against it, and he doesn’t make the moral case against it. When forced to spend, Reagan didn’t like it, and he said so. He also tried to cut. Mr. Bush seems to like it and doesn’t try to cut. He doesn’t warn that endless high spending can leave a nation tapped out and future generations hemmed in. In abandoning this ground Bush has abandoned a great deal--including a primary argument of conservatism and a primary reason for voting Republican.”
Columnist Richard Cohen in The Washington Post: “On Aug. 3, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a message to Congress in which he said that the United States could not continue to fight a war in Vietnam and at the same time continue his Great Society programs without, among other things, raising taxes. George Bush ought to read that message. It was titled ‘The Hard and Inescapable Facts.’ For Bush, facts are neither hard nor inescapable. He believes in ‘magical math’--a firm understanding that somehow, in some way, something will happen to make everything come out right in the end. This is the economics practiced by the dreamy who think that today’s credit card purchase will never come due. This, in a nutshell, is the financial blueprint for the United States of America. ... The curse of Texas is once again upon the land--an elective war, important enough to fight, not important enough to pay for. Up to now, it’s been manageable if only because few have been asked to sacrifice anything for the grand cause of ... well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it? On a national scale, the casualty rate is bearable and the financial cost has not been felt because the money was first looted from the surplus and then borrowed. But that borrowing will drive up interest rates, including mortgages, and it might, as happened with Vietnam, trigger inflation that lasted longer than the war itself. Everything is going to get more expensive and voters are going to get more grumpy and it’s all going to look like it once did to LBJ. That’s not someone’s nightmare scenario. That’s ‘the hard and inescapable facts.’”
As if Bush wasn’t getting enough of the cold shoulder treatment, now California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used to welcome the prez on visits to his Democratic-dominated state and even spoke glowingly of Bush’s “inner strength” at last summer’s Republican National Convention, has asked his fellow GOPer to stay away from California--at least until after the state’s November 8 special election. Bush had been planning an October 22 fund-raising trip out to the Los Angeles area; but Schwarzenegger, who’s desperate to make a comeback on the bandwagon of several ballot measures he’s supporting, worries that the prez will compete for the dollars needed to promote those initiatives. No word on whether Arnold promised, in return for this favor, that he’ll knock back a few brewskis with Bush, come Thanksgiving.
ADDENDUM: John Dickerson of Slate is rapidly becoming one of my favorite U.S. political columnists. He writes today about Bush’s Wednesday speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition, during which the prez sought to link the so-called war on terror with Hurricane Katrina: “Americans value human life, and value every person as important. And that stands in stark contrast, by the way, to the terrorists we have to deal with,” Bush declared. “You see, we look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break. They’re the kind of people who look at Katrina and they wish they had caused it.” Dickerson writes, “In other words, if you hate what the hurricane did to New Orleans, you must logically support taking the war against terrorism to Iraq. The political problem Bush faces, of course, is that the majority of the country does not support his leadership on either event, or see what they have in common. If most people mention the two in the same breath, it is probably to link them as Bush administration screw-ups. Logic aside, it’s hard to see how Bush’s political standing will improve through his effort to connect one major policy failure to another.”
READ MORE: “Bush Takes a Drink, the Drink Takes a Drink, the Drink Takes Bush,” by Michael Hood (BlatherWatch); “Bush Dynasty: The Next Generation,” by David Corn (The Nation); “From Gulf to Shining Gulf,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “The Loot Stops Here,” by Bruce Reed (Slate); “Kerry’s Roads Not Taken,” by Thomas Oliphant (The Boston Globe); “Katrina Probe Independent Commission: That’s The Only Way to Go” (The Philadelphia Inquirer); “Waiting for Action,” by David S. Broder (The Washington Post).