Friday, June 24, 2005

Misunderestimating the President


David Ignatius engages in a bit of wishful thinking when he argues that President Bush's fatal flaw is that he "treats every political fight as if it's the Battle of Gettysburg, and any hint of political compromise as if it's a potential dagger in the heart of his presidency."

I disagree. Bush compromises all the time. He just does it in a way that makes it look as if he hasn't ever compromised. This makes him, more, not less effective as a leader.

Take the Department of Homeland Security. Bush opposed creating such a cabinet level department vigorously, then, when it looked as if it might go through anyway, he became a cheerleader and pretended as if it was his own idea. And then he had the gall to criticize Democrats for opposing the department (when what they really opposed was Bush's proposal for imposing weaker labor and employment protections for civil service employees than enjoyed by most government employees).

Or take tax cuts. Bush asked for much more in the first round of tax cuts than he got. He waited until the last moment, then took half a loaf, and claimed victory.

Or take judicial nominations. Bush has now gotten three of the formerly filibustered judges by insisting on all of his nominees and letting the Senate fight it out; they have effectively created a compromise for him.

The fact that Ignatius doesn't remember these events in the Bush Presidency suggests that Bush has succeeded in creating the impression of a President who is steadfast and never compromises, while leaving himself room to make lots of compromises. That's a pretty good strategy, if you ask me. A pity that Ignatius was taken in so easily. But he's not the first of the President's political opponents who has "misunderestimated" him.

If Bush is weakened at this point in his presidency, it is not because he refuses to compromise. It is because he is a second term president pushing an extremely ambitious and controversial agenda while simultaneously fighting a difficult and unpopular war. Such circumstances would undermine the effectiveness of even the canniest of politicians. Whether they will undermine this extremely canny politician remains to be seen.


Sounds a lot like what Clinton did (Welfare Reform comes immediately to mind). This is what effective political leaders do.

I know some don't like to hear it but Bush is a pretty smart and able leader.

Well, I won't go too far and say he's an able leader. But he is smart to some extent. I still push people to read Kitty Kelly's The Family. Yeah, people want to trash it and say it's not real reading etc. But they "misunderestimate" Kelly. She's a great journalist. She does her research and her sources are good ones. That book shows that the Bush family is not exceptional by any means. There's nothing about that family that makes them great leaders. They are normal bordering on dysfunctional, like many families in this day and age.

What Bush is doing with taking credit is a tactic used many times, of course. He just has too many handelers advising him.

I have seen the best in you, I have seen the worst in you and I am yet to see a lot in you.
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