Tag Archives: Bush

What’s The Same, What’s Different

If you had asked me in, say, 2003–as we were waging war in Iraq–whether I would ever look back on the Presidency of George W. Bush with anything less than disgust, I’d have suggested a mental health checkup. If someone had argued that, in retrospect, Richard Nixon had his good points, I’d have gagged.

But here we are.

George W. wasn’t–as the saying goes–the brightest bulb, and at times his religiosity tended to overcome his fidelity to the Constitution–but he listened to the people around him (granted, several were unfortunate choices) not his “gut,” and his faith was evidently sincere. His official performance left a lot to be desired, but when he left the Oval Office, the country was still standing. (Talk about a low bar–but still…) And he’s been a pretty decent former President.

Nixon was actually smart. True, he was paranoid and racist, but he was really good on environmental policy and worked (unsuccessfully) to improve the social safety net. As Paul Krugman recently wrote

Donald Trump isn’t Richard Nixon — he’s much, much worse. And America 2020 isn’t America 1970: We’re a better nation in many ways, but our democracy is far more fragile thanks to the utter corruption of the Republican Party.

The Trump-Nixon comparisons are obvious. Like Nixon, Trump has exploited white backlash for political gain. Like Nixon, Trump evidently believes that laws apply only to the little people.

Nixon, however, doesn’t seem to have been a coward. Amid mass demonstrations, he didn’t cower in the MAGAbunker, venturing out only after his minions had gassed peaceful protesters and driven them out of Lafayette Park. Instead, he went out to talk to protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. His behavior was a bit weird, but it wasn’t craven.

 And while his political strategy was cynical and ruthless, Nixon was a smart, hard-working man who took the job of being president seriously.

His policy legacy was surprisingly positive — in particular, he did more than any other president, before or since, to protect the environment. Before Watergate took him down he was working on a plan to expand health insurance coverage that in many ways anticipated Obamacare.

As Krugman–and many others–have pointed out, the most relevant difference between “then” (the 60s) and now is the profound change in the Republican Party and the spinelessness and lack of integrity of the people the GOP has elected. Yes, Trump is a much worse human being than even Richard Nixon; but the real problem lies with his enablers.

Trump’s unfitness for office, his obvious mental illness and intellectual deficits, his authoritarian instincts and racial and religious bigotries have all been on display since he first rode down that ridiculous escalator. But aside from a small band of “Never Trumpers,” today’s Republican Party has been perfectly happy to abandon its purported devotion to the Constitution and the rule of law–not to mention free trade– in return for the power to enrich its donors and appoint judges who will ensure the continued dominance of white Christian males.

The good news is that the GOP is a significantly smaller party than it was in Nixon’s day.  According to Pew,

In Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2017, 37% of registered voters identified as independents, 33% as Democrats and 26% as Republicans. When the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account, 50% either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic; 42% identify as Republicans or lean Republican.

The 8-percentage-point Democratic advantage in leaned partisan identification is wider than at any point since 2009, and a statistically significant shift since 2016, when Democrats had a 4-point edge (48% to 44%).

As utterly depressing as it is to see 42% of our fellow Americans still claiming allegiance to a political party that has shown itself to be unmoored from its principles and origins–and for that matter, antagonistic to fundamental American values–the fact remains that more people reject the party of white supremacy than embrace it.

Republicans who supported Nixon in the 60s rarely defend him these days. It will be interesting to see how today’s 42% remember their loyalties fifty years from now.

Assuming, of course, that we still have a country (and a planet) when the devastation wrought by this administration clears….

The Warmongers Refuse to Learn

John McCain ( “get off my lawn”) and Lindsay Graham (“I’m running for re-election and nobody gets to the right of me!”) have a letter in yesterday’s New York Times, insisting that President Obama do something about ISIS. They don’t say what that something should be, but they scold the President for failing to do it.

McCain and Graham have a long history as proponents of a “muscular” (belligerent)  foreign policy; in their world, war is the first, not last, resort. As I recall, both were supportive of the Bush Administration’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq and further destabilize the  Middle East.  Given the way that little adventure turned out, you might think they’d be a bit more reluctant to rattle their swords, but they don’t seem to have learned anything.

Martin Longman, over at Political Animal, reminisces.

It’s surprisingly easy to compose a list of the 25 stupidest things Bush administration officials said about the invasion of Iraq, and no such list can be remotely comprehensive. For example, the list I just referenced has President Bush assuring Reverend Pat Robertson that he doesn’t need to prepare the public for casualties because we won’t have any casualties, and it has Donald Rumsfeld dismissing concerns about looting because “free” people are free to do dumb things, but it makes no reference to Paul Wolfowitz saying in Congressional testimony that, “There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army — hard to imagine.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years.”

The current Administration is trying to deal with–or as Longman puts it, triage– the disastrous consequences of massively wrongheaded policies. It’s a huge mess.

I have no idea whether Obama is doing what needs to be done, because I have no idea which measures would help and which would make things worse.  I definitely have no advice to offer.

The difference between me and McCain/Graham is: I know what I don’t know.

Politics as Farce

That anyone–anywhere–is taking “The Donald” seriously is a black mark on America.

This megalomaniac with really, really bad hair, whose most salient characteristic is a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, is busy pandering to the very worst elements in our political system–much as he has pandered to our obsession with money and celebrity. As a side show, I suppose some may find him moderately amusing, if bad taste and cluelessness are your thing. As a presidential contender, not so much.

On the other hand, the shamelessness with which he is playing to the Tea Party folks makes it abundantly clear what truly motivates them: hatred of Obama. Not the real, flesh and blood person who occupies the White House, but the idea of Obama. “Birtherism” is simply a slightly less obvious attack on Obama’s race. The other attacks flow from that central conviction: a black President is unthinkable, illegitimate.

Was there intense hatred of George W. Bush? Absolutely. But it developed over time, as Bush took actions that enraged many citizens. Even after the disaster of the hanging chads and the Supreme Court’s intervention, there was partisan disapproval but not the white-hot anger that developed as Bush revealed himself through word and deed. That is not the case with Obama; he was the object of searing personal attacks before he even assumed the office. You don’t have to agree with everything he’s done (and I don’t–especially his continuation of Bush’s national security policies) to recognize the difference.

But even the most reactionary among us surely don’t hate Obama–or America–enough to consider Donald Trump anything but the shallow side-show he is.