Today, Bob Woodward has a trenchant and mostly defensible analysis of the Bush years, especailly where Bush went wrong. Even those, like me, who aren’t huge Woodward fans (So how did he talk to CIA director Casey when Casey was in a coma and surrounded by guards?) will be moved, probably, to agree with Woodward’s assessments here.
Deroy Murdock has an even better, devastating analysis here. It’s a brilliant piece of work by Deroy, especially the longer version of it that I have seen that probably will run at NRO in the next few days. (Deroy refutes one statement by Woodwards — without knowing that Woodward wrote it. Woodward writes: “Powell was right that to conclude that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden did not work together.” Deroy writes, more correctly: “Bush and his minions refused to detail the multifarious ties between Saddam Hussein and Islamofascist terrorists. They even stayed quiet about Manhattan-based, Clinton-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer’s May 7, 2003 decision that Hussein provided “material support” to the 9-11 conspirators.
Meanwhile, I find it remarkable how much the column I wrote for the day after the 2004 election reads like Woodward now, with a little of Murdock now thrown in. I reprint it at full length after the jump, but first, I append it here for a purpose: to show that so much of what went wrong for Bush was eminently (and imminently and perhaps even imanently) forseeable. I also note that although this column of mine was written in criticism of Bush BEFORE he won (as if I thought he would lose), I actually had gone on record just two days earlier predicting that Bush would indeed win — so the criticisms were indeed criticisms of somebody I expected to be a winner. Anyway, this column, combined with the Murdock and Woodward pieces, makes one wish for what might have been if the flaws of a basically good man had been corrected back at the beginning of his second term.
Wednesday,November 3, 2004
Edition: 05, Section: A, Page 31
Bush didn’t lead, but merely commanded
President George W. Bush ran a highly flawed administration these past
four years, and a highly flawed campaign. He, or his Republican
successors, will have to do far better if they are to deserve occupancy
of the White House.
This column is being written early on Tuesday, long before votes are
counted. Its analysis is wholly independent of the election results.
Regardless of the outcome, the bottom line is that the race should not
have been so close. A better, less arrogant administration and a better,
less arrogant campaign should easily have won a second term over a
challenger as awful as U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
The truth is that the Bush administration undercut its own high
principles on some subjects with low cynicism on others.
And the reality is that for this president, leadership often excludes
listening – which means that fewer people are willing to follow his
Let it be stipulated that Bush has good values and instincts. He is
right that fighting terrorists on their own turf will help protect our
own. He is right that standing up to one vicious thug, Saddam Hussein,
will tend to make other vicious thugs, notably Moammar Qadhafi, turn
He is right, even visionary, in insisting that spreading freedom and
republican (small “R”) values is the best way to make the world safer.
He was right that building missile defenses would not destabilize
relations with Russia, but rather serve the cause of peace. He was right
that cutting marginal tax rates across the board helped stave off the
worst of the recession. But he was wrong to impose tariffs on imported
steel. That move cost more jobs nationwide than it saved in Pennsylvania
and West Virginia, and it harmed consumers.
He was right to trust Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and approve a
lightning-strike war plan in Iraq – but wrong to ignore the advice of
Gen. Eric Shinseki that more than 200,000 troops would be needed to
maintain the post-war peace.
He also was wrong to enter the war before resolving the disputes between
the departments of State and Defense as to how to deal with post-war
Iraq. He tried to placate both sides, but instead created confusion.
Bush was wrong to let federal spending run out of control. He was wrong,
and spineless, to fail to veto a single bill passed by Congress.
And he was as wrong as wrong can be to force through a hideously
complicated, astronomically expensive prescription-drug program for
Medicare, without making it part of an overall systemic reform to fix
the program for future generations.
But the Bush flaws arise at least as much from style as from issues. In
this case, style is part and parcel of substance, because the stylistic
flaws affect Bush’s leadership.
For a president who models himself after Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush
is certainly no Reagan.
Yes, Bush is Reaganesque when it comes to taking a stand on a big issue
and sticking to it. And he’s Reaganesque in his boldness and his ability
to clarify (some would say simplify) big problems down to their
But Reagan then went an extra step: He didn’t merely explain his
stances, but also tried to persuade people to stand with him. Bush
repeats his explanations again and again, as if declaring accepted
facts. Reagan repeated his arguments, patiently and in good humor, as if
those arguments were a marriage of logic with principles shared by the
listener – and in a way that helped the listener not just accept the
logic, but participate in it.
Most important, though, Reagan didn’t mind listening to conflicting
advice. Bush, on the other hand, is famously (or, rather, infamously)
loath to be challenged. His persnickety attitude in the first debate was
no aberration; it was a reflection of his habit of treating all dissent
as a personal affront. Report after report shows that Bush’s inner
circle isn’t a sounding board, but an echo chamber.
This trait of Bush’s played out in his relations to members of Congress.
Reagan was well known, and appreciated, for his willingness to call
individual congressmen – of both parties – to ask for their support and,
if need be, bargain with them. Bush talks almost exclusively to
Republicans, and infrequently at that.
In one incident much resented on Capitol Hill, Bush called a group of
GOP congressmen to the White House for what was billed as a serious
give-and-take on a big issue. Instead, Bush walked in, announced his
position, declared that he expected them all to support it, and walked
right back out.
That’s not leadership; it’s either false bravado or inexcusable
His campaign suffered from the same lamentable tendencies. Outside ideas
were never welcomed. Alternative approaches weren’t tried. He and
political guru Karl Rove boiled the election down to just one issue: the
war against terrorists. But that was a desperate, and unnecessary,
gamble. It ignored the ancient wisdom against putting all eggs in one
Polls have shown for several years, for instance, that voters prefer
Republicans, rather than Democrats, to choose judges. But Bush almost
never mentioned that issue, not even when Chief Justice William
Rehnquist came down with cancer.
Bush also refused to return to a domestic agenda that proved popular
when he outlined it in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention. He
refused to make “law and order” an issue even when statistics showed
great national gains against violent crime. He didn’t talk about missile
defense. Instead, the Bush campaign was obsessed with playing to his
polling advantage on the “war on terror.”
Methinks he overplayed it.
This critique could continue, but why bother? Nobody in Camp Bush-League
is listening. They never do. Win or lose, that will remain their
Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register.