Saturday, September 24, 2005

More Solomon, Less John Wayne

[[B E H A V I O R]] * Anybody who’s ever observed primates for very long will recognize their “bipedal swagger.” It’s a side-to-side swaying motion exhibited while an individual is either standing or walking along on two legs, with his shoulders hunched a bit and his arms held out to his sides. In The Behavior Guide to African Mammals (1991), R.D. Estes explains that this behavior is a threatening display employed between males. It is also, apparently, a preferred conduct of George W. Bush.

“A president who roamed across the national and world stages with an unshakable self-assurance that comforted Republicans and confounded critics since 2001 suddenly finds himself struggling to reclaim his swagger,” write Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker in today’s Washington Post. With Bush’s job approval ratings having tumbled to the high 30-percent or low 40-percent range, depending on the poll; with the war in Iraq getting bloodier by the day and increasing numbers of Americans calling for troops to be withdrawn; and with his Social Security “privatization” scheme dead, his plan to make his long-term tax cuts permanent having stalled before the immediate demands of hurricane relief, and conservatives now openly questioning both his competence and his devotion to fiscal discipline, the prez “finds himself at what aides privately describe as a low point in office, one that is changing the psychic and political aura of the White House, as well as its distinctive political approach,” according to the Post. “In small, sometimes subtle but unmistakable ways, the president and top aides sound less certain, more conciliatory and willing to do something they avoided in the first term: admit mistakes. After bulling through crisis after crisis with a ‘bring ’em on’ brashness, a more solemn Bush now has twice taken responsibility for the much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.”

Of course, many Americans--myself included--would cheer the idea of Bush losing his cowboyish, arrogant, insolent swagger. It’s that swagger, after all, that led the United States to attack Saddam Hussein with pitifully little international support, and that has kept U.S. soldiers in Iraq for two and a half years already, with no end in sight. It’s that swagger that drove Bush’s tax-cutting during the first part of his presidency, and that skyrocketed the national debt, wiping out President Bill Clinton’s budget surpluses and leaving the country with talk of federal spending restraint, but little action. It’s that same haughty disdain for any opinions that don’t agree with Bush’s own that has crippled U.S. credibility abroad (where are those weapons of mass destruction, anyway, George?) and isolated America, with much of the world seeing it now as more of a fractious threat than an invaluable ally. It’s Bush’s cocksureness that led to rampant cronyism in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and left New Orleans ill prepared for hurricane-caused flooding.

To quote former Vice President Al Gore, Bush “promised to ‘restore honor and integrity to the White House.’ Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.” And further, to quote Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the Bush administration “promised protection--or at least amelioration--against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological. [With post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans] it has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.”

Dubya’s pompous strutting has led him to do great damage, some of which may be irreparable. And yet, as the Post reports, “White House aides want to reestablish Bush’s swagger--the projection of competence and confidence in the White House that has carried the administration through tough times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” Better that he be brought down a few more pegs, instead, shown that there’s strength in fallibility, and that one must learn from his or her mistakes, not simply try to forget them and move on. As the old Arabic proverb goes, “arrogance diminishes wisdom.” We’ve seen far too much of the former and far too little of the latter from this White House.

READ MORE:Top Republican Tells Post: Laura Has Taken Away Bush’s Swagger,” by Steve Soto (The Left Coaster); “If Only This Were September 2004, Not September 2005,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “LBJ’s Political Hurricane,” by Brian Williams (The New York Times); “Albright Warns Dark Days Ahead in Iraq,” by Mike Glover (AP); “Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words: An Interview with Hugo Chávez,” by Lally Weymouth (The Washington Post).