Friday, February 14, 2003


Is the President up to the Job?

During the 2000 Election, one of the greatest concerns many had about Governor Bush was that he lacked sufficient knowledge, experience and judgment to engage in foreign policy, and that he would not hold up well in a crisis. What would this fellow do, many people said to themselves, if we ever went to war?

Bush’s response was to point out that he would surround himself by able advisors, who would give him the facts and he would make the tough decisions. His selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate was the great symbol of Bush’s commitment to reliance on seasoned officials.

After 9-11, questions of Bush’s competency seemed to be laid to rest. After all, he did respond to a very big crisis. He mobilized public support for an invasion of Afghanistan, and his generals carried it out successfully, although they did not catch Osama Bin Laden.

But in a sense this proof was misleading. Bush’s response to 9-11 showed that Bush was a man of fierce determination, who would stick to a course and see it through. He showed that if attacked, he would not hesitate to use force to punish those suspected of complicity in the assaults and to threaten to use force against anyone else who dared consider a similar adventure.

Similarly, in domestic politics, Bush’s basic strategy has been to push for very significant policies, and refuse to budge, waiting to see if his adversaries crumble or become divided among themselves. His basic mantra has been “don’t negotiate with yourself;” instead, take the strongest possible stand– whether on tax cuts, judicial appointments, or anything else, and see if the Democrats will stand up to you or whether they will fold.

The problem is that single mindedness, stubbornness, and a willingness to use force and threaten force may be an effective strategy in some contexts, but they are not necessarily the best strategy in all contexts. Current conditions show why Bush’s dominant strategy and tendencies have gotten us into considerable trouble.

His policy toward Iraq has squandered almost all of the goodwill that came our way after 9-11.

He has managed to create the largest antiwar movement *before* a war in recent memory, both in the United States and in Europe.

He has managed to strain our relations with our closest allies in Europe almost to the breaking point, and it is quite likely that he has precipitated a new geopolitical arrangement with America and Europe seeing themselves increasingly as adversaries, rather than as two important entities working together to ensure the spread of democracy and freedom. In the process, he has also succeeded in allying France, Germany and Russia against him.

On the domestic front, his unswerving devotion to larger and larger tax cuts promises to create larger and larger deficits for the foreseeable future, even as he plans to spend more and more money on his military adventures and on the consequences these adventures will inevitably produce.

He has managed to preside over an economy sinking into increasingly dire conditions; his first tax cut has done nothing to ameliorate the bad economic times, and neither he nor his rotating cast of economic advisors have made a plausible case that his favored policies of greater and greater tax cuts for the rich are going to improve things.

If you asked voters in 2000 what they would think of a President who would single-handedly destroy the fifty year old Atlantic alliance with Europe, plunge us into war, send the government into mountains of red ink and fail to deal with mounting economic problems at home, they would probably have responded that such a person was not fit to be President. It would sound to them like the fellow, however good intentioned he might be, was simply not up to the job.

And they would be right.

What obscures this judgment today, I think is, that unlike Jimmy Carter, who presided over a mess not even half as bad as this one, George W. Bush seems to be a man of action. He is determined. He will not be denied. He is utterly convinced that he has God on his side. People tend to associate action and bluster with strong leadership. What this overlooks is that a person can fail to be up to the job of President not because he is too reticent and weak-willed, or because he freezes in a crisis, but because he overreacts and pushes too hard and too fast at the wrong times. George W. Bush’s failings are not neurosis and indecision. They are stubbornness, tunnel vision, narrowmindedness, over-aggressiveness, belligerence, and hubris.

Bush’s failures as President will emerge over time– as our alliance with Europe is damaged, as our economy stagnates, as the costs of war mount. Eventually, people will see that the aggressive singlemindedness they so admired in the wake of 9-11 was ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of a post 9-11 world. They will see that he has done on the world stage exactly what he did before in his career as a businessman: He has made a very big mess, and someone else is going to have to clean that mess up.


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The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.
i really love it. Thank you
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The universe may not always play fair, but at least it's got a hell of a sense of humor.
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