Political Hay

Matthew Dowd Stockman

An ex-Bushie's ideology puts principals over principles.

By 4.2.07

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Why are the views of Matthew Dowd a surprise?

To the New York Times, the one-time "top strategist" for President Bush who has now turned on the President because of the Iraq War is a predictable hero, fodder for a front page story ("Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President").

Yet in reading of the defection of one-time Bush loyalist Matthew Dowd, the fact that Dowd "in a wide ranging interview" with Times reporter Jim Rutenberg "called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush's leadership" should come as no surprise at all. Why?

As Rutenberg's article makes clear, Dowd was once "a top strategist for the Texas Democrats" who was "impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington." Says Dowd of Bush: "It's almost like you fall in love, I was frustrated about Washington, the inability for people to get stuff done and bridge divides. And this guy's personality -- he cared about education and taking a different stand on immigration." Now, the man who, as a Bush strategist in the 2004 Presidential campaign, criticized Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry for proposing "a weak defense" believes that "Kerry was right" about Iraq.

In other words, Matthew Dowd did not support George W. Bush because Dowd was himself a principled conservative. No, Dowd signed on to the Bush effort because, by his own admission, he "fell in love" with Bush's personality. Whatever else all of this tempest in a teaspoon demonstrates, one major point is surely that when you support a candidate because you love the way he -- or she -- "cared" you are headed to an inevitable political disillusionment.

What is particularly striking in this incident is the way both Dowd and Times reporter Rutenberg present Dowd's views as if they themselves are ideology-free. In fact, both subject and reporter reveal a fierce devotion to the liberal ideology that defines "getting along" and "bridging divides" as, well, being a liberal. Notice Dowd's musings on how much the "only candidate to appeal to him" is Senator Barack Obama. By now the cat is out of the bag that Obama's soothing rhetoric is being deliberately used to hide the most liberal Senate voting record of any candidate in the Democratic field. A candidate who gets a 100% thumbs up from liberal stalwarts Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and Americans for Democratic Action and a healthy 92% from the AFL-CIO may be many things, but someone seeking to bridge the philosophical divides in the country or the nation's capital is not one of them.

Particularly troubling is the Times' -- and Dowd's -- assertion that the President refused to meet with anti-Iraq war protestor Cindy Sheehan, when both certainly are aware Bush declined not a first but a second meeting with the woman who has plainly presented herself as a fierce anti-Semite with an admiration for fascists like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME a President under siege has been turned on by an aide who seems unable to understand the principles he signed on to represent. In the Reagan Administration the role of Matthew Dowd was played by Reagan's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman. Presenting himself to both Reagan and all of Washington as a principled conservative supply-sider, it wasn't long into Reagan's first term before Stockman turned on the President, like Dowd his "faith" shaken by events. Also like Dowd, Stockman turned to a liberal reporter to express his grievances, professing shock when they hit the front pages.

In Stockman's case his beef was Reaganomics. Finally leaving Reagan's side in a fury, the young numbers wizard proceeded to write a book pronouncing the Reagan Revolution "radical, imprudent and arrogant," ripping Reagan and Stockman's former colleagues for defying "settled consensus." Notice those words: "settled consensus." They say nothing -- zero -- about principle. They are about the politics of getting along, no matter how far into the ditch the "settled consensus" and its practitioners have driven the country.

Stockman's views on "consensus" reflect precisely Dowd's views on Iraq. "If the American public says they're done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want," asserts Dowd to the Times. "They're saying, 'Get out of Iraq.'"

The Dowd/Stockman view that a president needs to settle for consensus instead of exerting presidential leadership is a view that, thankfully, America's more thoughtful chief executives have ignored. Abraham Lincoln was elected with a bare 40% of the vote in 1860, which is to say almost 60% of the country voted against Lincoln's views on ending slavery. Lincoln ignored the "consensus" and went on to save the Union and end slavery once and for all. There was certainly no "consensus" among the American business community and the GOP that FDR's New Deal was the correct economic prescription to get the country out of the Great Depression. And certainly FDR held out no olive branches to help bridge the divide. Labeling his opponents "enemies" he thundered: "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred." Presumably former Democrat Dowd holds FDR high on his pantheon of great presidents -- a position Roosevelt did not achieve by seeking consensus.

The "consensus" of the early 1960s in the American South certainly was decidedly not to end segregation -- but John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson went ahead and did it anyway, in spite of furious racial riots and repeated violent clashes that stated plainly their ideas about Civil Rights were wildly unpopular with huge numbers of the American public. And as any member of the Reagan Administration can testify, the "consensus" among Democrats that Ronald Reagan should abandon both his economic program and his decision to win the Cold War outright over the Soviet Union was overwhelming. Reagan, thankfully, paid the idea of "consensus" no heed whatsoever. In the end, it was Stockman and his Democratic friends who were proved wrong, and the pro-consensus zealots -- liberals all -- who lost the historical argument.

It is doubtless not lost on George W. Bush that his own father took the advice of the Matthew Dowds of the day and broke his "read my lips" tax pledge -- and saw his 90% plus poll ratings dwindle to a solid electoral thrashing at the hands of Bill Clinton.

So what to make of Matthew Dowd? Well, not much. Doubtless he's a nice guy. Surely his views are causing some angst amongst his former colleagues in the Bush crew.

They shouldn't. Like David Stockman from Reagan days, Dowd's central idea of government is based on principals, not principles -- unless they are liberal principles.

He was never one of them to begin with.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.