Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bush’s Defining Attribute

[[A N A L Y S I S]] * I’ve never subscribed to the position that George W. Bush is stupid. Yes, he seems to have no facility for complication or nuance. Yes, he bears the weaknesses of all four of the principal characters in The Wizard of Oz: The Scarecrow (no brain), The Tin Man (no heart), The Cowardly Lion (no courage, which is at the root of his determination never to take the blame for anything), and Dorothy (because he seems lost in a world largely hostile to his right-wing ideology and fundamentalist views). But stupid? Nah. Bush is way too calculating, deceptive, and devious to actually be stupid.

Incompetent, on the other hand? Now, there’s an adjective I can get behind when applied to our much-scandalized, power-hungry prez. Especially when the case for Bush’s incompetence is laid out so succinctly by Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson:
Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president’s defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things--particularly when most of them were the president’s own initiatives.

In numbing profusion, the newspapers are filled with litanies of screw-ups. Yesterday’s
New York Times brought news of the first official assessment of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq, in which the government’s special inspector general depicted a policy beset, as Times reporter James Glanz put it, “by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting [and] secrecy.” At one point, rebuilding efforts were divided, bewilderingly and counterproductively, between the Army Corps of Engineers and, for projects involving water, the Navy. That’s when you’d think a president would make clear in no uncertain terms that bureaucratic turf battles would not be allowed to impede Iraq’s reconstruction. But then, the president had no guiding vision for how to rebuild Iraq--indeed, he went to war believing that such an undertaking really wouldn’t require much in the way of American treasure and American lives.

It’s the president’s prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D), though, that is his most
mind-boggling failure. As was not the case in Iraq or with Katrina, it hasn’t had to overcome the opposition of man or nature. Pharmacists are not resisting the program; seniors are not planting car bombs to impede it (not yet, anyway). But in what must be an unforeseen development, people are trying to get their medications covered under the program. Apparently, this is a contingency for which the administration was not prepared, as it has been singularly unable to get its own program up and running. ...

How could a president get these things so wrong? Incompetence may describe this presidency, but it doesn’t explain it. For that, historians may need to turn to the seven deadly sins: to greed, in understanding why Bush entrusted his new drug entitlement to a financial mainstay of modern Republicanism. To sloth, in understanding why Incurious George has repeatedly ignored the work of experts whose advice runs counter to his desires.

More and more, the key question for this administration is that of the great American sage,
Casey Stengel: Can’t anybody here play this game?
Interestingly, the competence question is picked up again by The New York Times’ Bob Herbert, who, in analyzing Bush’s unwillingness to cooperate with congressional investigations of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, writes today:
This guy is something. Remember his “Top Gun” moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln? And his famous taunt--“Bring ’em on”--to the insurgents in Iraq? His breathtaking arrogance is exceeded only by his incompetence. And that’s the real problem. That’s where you’ll find the mind-boggling destructiveness of this regime, in its incompetence.

Fantasy may be in fashion. Reality may have been shoved into the shadows on Mr. Bush’s watch. But the plain truth is that he is the worst president in memory, and one of the worst of all time. Many thousands of people--men, women and children--have died unnecessarily (and thousands more are suffering) because of his misguided and mishandled policies. ...

The fiasco in Iraq and the president’s response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe were Mr. Bush’s two most spectacular foul-ups. There have been many others. The president’s new Medicare prescription drug program has been a monumental embarrassment, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our society without essential medication. Prominent members of the president’s own party are balking at the heavy hand of his No Child Left Behind law, which was supposed to radically upgrade the quality of public education.

The Constitution? Civil liberties? Don’t ask.

Just keep in mind, whatever your political beliefs, that incompetence in high places can have devastating consequences.
It’s nice to see that no all members of the mainstream media are conned by Bush’s good ol’ boy fakery and “trust me” reassurances.

DEATH OF A PRESIDENCY: In the latest edition of The Forum, “a journal of applied research in contemporary politics,” John K. White, a professor at the Catholic University of America, analyzes how U.S. presidents have fought back from low points of popularity. An excerpt:
During the past fifty years, presidents have had moments when the public disapproves of their performances. George W. Bush is one of them. Successful presidents have been able to reverse their low standing when they can change the subject. Such was the case for Harry Truman in 1948, Ronald Reagan in 1987, and Bill Clinton in 1995. Truman got back to the New Deal/Fair Deal agenda, Reagan acknowledged mistakes in the Iran-Contra scandal, and Clinton decided to get back to his middle class agenda. Unsuccessful presidents are those who found themselves in political trouble and could not change the subject. These include Truman in 1952 (Korea), Richard Nixon in 1974 (Watergate), Jimmy Carter in 1980 (Iranian hostages and the economy), and George H. W. Bush in 1992 (the economy). George W. Bush is likely to be one of the unsuccessful presidents. Iraq has brought this presidency to new lows in public approval, and it is unlikely that Bush will be able to shift the public focus away from Iraq.
(Hat tip to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.)

READ MORE:A Question of Incompetence,” by Paul Glastris (Political Animal); “All the President’s Dodges: How George Bush Ducks Questions,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “The Fact-Challenged, Spin-Filled, Easily Debunkable Universe of Scott McClellan,” by David R. Mark (JABBS).

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