Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Is Bush Bad Off? Mainstream Media says He is: A Dissenting Opinion
In 1957 Dwight Eisenhower took some time off and went to North Carolina at Bernard Baruchs place to speculate on how bad off he was. The Democrats who ran Congress were giving him fits. Having won reelection the previous year by electoral vote of 457 to 73, this former five-star general of the army had every right to consider that the second term would be a breeze. Not so. The media were raging that John Foster Dulles, not Ike, was running foreign policy and Dulles was trumpeting that the Captive Nations behind the Iron Curtain should be liberated which, critics said, was too warlike. Ikes idea of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and the prospective Central Treaty Organization was being ridiculed by Republican isolationists in Congress but with sparse help from Democratic internationalists. Then there were the domestic ills. Treasury Secretary George Humphrey, terrible at p.r. swung out at his boss own budget by saying to the press, If we dont cut spending [over a long period] I predict you will have a depression that will curl your hair! It curled what was left of Eisenhowers.
As a 29-year-old Republican paid strategist in heavily DFL [Democratic Farmer Labor] Minnesota where Hubert Humphrey ruled, with his sidekick Orville Freeman as governor and an almost full slate of DFL constitutional officers plus Congressmen, even I, in such an inauspicious post as I, was aghast: try to carry the land of 10,000 lakes for a Republican when Ezra Taft Benson as secretary of agriculture faced farmers chanting this DFL song: He likes price supports flexible, he likes `em limp, even if the farmers gotta starve and scrimp? Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy was trying to scoop up the pieces left by Engine Charlie Wilson who had said famously that what is good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versathe vice versa meaning that was good for GM was good for the country. Emmett John Hughes, his top speechwriter, defected and wrote a book showing Ike to be a poor administrator, weak, indecisive.
Conservatives in Congress were lampooning Interior Secretary Doug McKay for spending money on a project to extract drinking water from the sea, Secretary of Labor Jim Mitchell was alienating conservatives to extend unemployment comp to illegals, HEW secretary Marion Folsom was antagonizing industry for his early efforts to block pollution of factories. The only one not irritating Ike was the lowly secretary of commerce, Fred Mueller, who was seeking implement a trade embargo over Cuba.
In addition to which Ikes Supreme Court appointments had gone awry: Chief Justice Earl Warren was a born-again liberal seemingly re-writing the Constitution and driving the South (which had been slowly tipping Republican) batty; another appointee, John Marshall Harlan was joining the liberals in tightening interpretation of the Smith Act, the basis on which Ikes Justice Department was prosecuting Communists in the U.S. Yet another appointment, William J. Brennan was out of control and heading for the left. Nelson Rockefeller, FDRs old assistant secretary of state for Latin America, was readying to run for governor of New York and was set to challenge Ikes South American policies. A high official, Harold Stassen, had resigned because he failed at his attempt to dump Richard Nixon as vice president a year earlier.
The media (and the so-called mainstream was all there was) was highly critical, registering Eisenhower as a passive chairman of the board while his cabinet ran things. Bad as it seemed, this is not how history records him now. Far from it. Dulles died and slowly the realization dawned that the man who led the greatest invasion in history had all the while run his own foreign policy. Sherman Adams, the so-called gatekeeper who supposedly had custody of Ikes brain, had to resign and things continued swimmingly without him. It turned out that the contemporary media had been totally wrong about Eisenhower. With publication after his death of The Hidden Hand Presidency by Fred Greenstein who had access to hitherto secret cabinet sessions and Eisenhower documents, revolutionized studies of Ike so that ever since historians have generally agreed that Ike was one of the more successful chief executives.
He restored the balance between rampant internationalism urged by Humphrey and the then militaristic left where we were expected to send troops throughout the world to fight communism to a restrained internationalism, wisely vetoing Nixons urging to help the French in Vietnam. The so-called missile gap touted by the Democrats and pushed by Republican Rockefeller was later acknowledged as a hoax even by President Kennedy. The conclusion of the Korean War where we intervened hastily, the birth of the Eisenhower doctrine that restrained the USSR with the threat of massive retaliation as a deterrent, the righting of the economy from the Truman years, the initiation of the Interstate Highway Act, an unparalleled achievement, accomplished in shorter time than anyone expected, caused historians to see Ike as a detail-conscious, often angry, often cussing, highly decisive president with a rare diplomatic flare, unhorsing the heavy drinking, increasingly erratic Joe McCarthy by steering strategy in the Senate and escaping blame from conservatives for it. And for this writer, a dogged foot-soldier somewhat depressed, too, in chilly Minnesota, somehow the ground was prepared for a Republican governor in 1960 who would lead to a succession of Republican governors a surprisingly beneficent change aided by the death of Humphrey in 1976.
So what does this prove with respect to George W. Bush? Simply this. Like Eisenhower Bush is in much, much better shape than conventional wisdom allows. His low poll numbers match those of others in similar spots. Were we to wake up tomorrow and find that he had slept away to a peaceful death, we would be asking ourselves why when he was among us we knew him not. First, his response to 9/11 was magnificent. Second, his charting of a bold new course in international affairs has us leading the way to installing democracies in the Middle East for our own enlightened self-interest to set into motion a generation of peace. This is not altruism but hard-nosed self-interest. Third, he has understood the need for tax cuts and making them permanent. Fourth, he has been magnificent on conservative social policy, naming pro-lifers to the Courts and standing seemingly alone on embryonic stem cells. . Fifth, his jaunty, Rooseveltian confidence is not understood now. Even with Harriet Miers, thanks to him conservatives are in a win-win. If she is confirmed, we have every reason to expect she is a conservative on social policy. If she is not, we have every right to expect her successor will be in the category of one learned in the law.
What about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby? The details of the case Ill tackle later, but no one who knows Karl Rove from his Texas days (and there are some here in Chicago who do) can imagine the deity status he was given by the media: including the book written entitled Bushs Brain. People who build up Rove as genius have an axe to grind and it isnt because they idolize Rove. This gratuitous larding of compliments on Rove is not done to canonize Rove as genius, it is to minimize Bush as the liberals favorite caricature: a semi-literate buffoon. This is not to take away from Rove his strategic sense but it is to recall that in the eyes of the mainstream media, Republican presidents are either dolts (Eisenhower mind-wandering, inattentive, semi-retired chairman of the board, Gerald Ford, clumsy and dense, Reagan the inattentive affable dunce as Clark Clifford called him, George H.W. Bush the eternal preppy wimp scorned as an imitator of comedian Charles Nelson Reilly, so isolated from events that he was stunned to see modern check-out mechanisms at a supermarket) or evil: Richard Nixon, smart but cunning like Richard II. Now to his liberal enemies Bush is not only illiterate, dumb and insensitive but is evil as well for plotting to start the Iraq war. But as we have learned these caricatures are false. Eisenhower was a great president, Nixon a flawed man who opened negotiations with China that helped tip the Cold War to our side, Ford a great stabilizer and relief after Nixon, Reagan a firm ever-communicative icon, G.H.W. Bush a foolish politician to break his tax-hike word but superb international strategist. Indeed, the popular consensus has changed.
The rise of talk radio (based on Reagan fortuitously ditching the equal time provision), the rise of the internet blog (which enables even a punk like me to communicate widely without an editor excising my views) has given us a New Media to counterbalance the Old Media. This means conservatives ought to stop picking at Bush needlessly and start thinking of how in 2006 we can run good candidates and play to his strengths. The Valerie Plame game is nothing less than an attempt by the liberals to throttle the mediayes, one doesnt view it often that way, but it is true. If Patrick Fitzgerald finds that no one leaked Plames name with reference to her having served as a secret operative of the CIA but have lied to a grand jury in an attempt to cover up, the imbroglio produced is simply this: Shall one be indicted for falsely denying participation in a non-crime that has not been committed?
If Fitzgerald is attempting to broaden the matter to embrace the details of the 1917 Espionage Act which has rarely been enforced basis its draconian elements passed in a World War I climate of frenzy, Rove and Libby may go to jail but the resultant outcry that will gravitate on the liberals for attempting to criminalize politics. It will be sufficient to gave them huge martyrdom (small consolation to them at first but wait), the likes of which Judy Miller never experienced and young Mr. Fitzgerald could go down as a magnificent boob, one far more virtuous than the people he supposedly serves, having steered us to a climate akin to the British Official Secrets Act that would stop the flow of needed information to the people, who strained at a gnat in order to justify the time and expense he produced in chasing a crime that was never committed.
Take heart, my friends. The best is yet to be.