I keep wanting to rally around President Bush, both because I think conservatives’ fates are tied up with his (whether we like it or even deserve it, or not) and because I think his heart is in the right place…. but listening to President Bush’s press conference was (excuse the cliche) like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. The reasons are numerous. First, he just has an odd way of talking. He has a weird habit of emphasizing random words in the middle of sentences, usually big words, in a way that suggests (pause) that he is not sure if his listeners will understand such a big word unless he brings (pause) it to their attention. It’s really annoying.
Second, he continues to misrepresent the immigration debate, and thus lose any chance to attract fence-sitters to his side. Again today, he suggested that the opponents of his immigration plan want us instead to do a massive manhunt and forcibly and quickly deport all 12 millions illegals — and then says that, well, of course that’s an impossible task, which is why his opponents are wrong. But not even the anti-immigration hardliners at National Review have ever suggested doing that. Again and again and again, the mainstream anti-illegal immigration folks have said their preferred option is to get tough on border enforcement and get tougher on employers who hire illegals, and let the rest of the problem work itself over time by mere attrition. That is NOT a massive deportation scheme. For Bush to continue to insist that mass, forced deportation is his opponents’ only alternative is like sticking a hot fork in their eyes. And, since a large percentage of them are people who otherwise are among the last holdouts SUPPORTING Bush on other matters, his insult to their motives and their intelligence is particularly ill advised. At the very least, the way to win skeptics is not to mischaracterize the other side’s position. (To be clear, I am not an anti-illegal hardliner: I favor the Pence plan, which the National Review folks bashed last year [I still think they misunderstood it] as if it, too, amounted to cheap amnesty — which it manifestly did not.)
Third, Bush repeats the same, tired talking points about Iraq at every press conference. No matter how the questions about Iraq are phrased, and no matter what the latest news from Iraq is, the president says the same things over and over again. As in, listen to the generals and not the politicians. If they don’t fight us there, they’ll follow us here. Etcetera etcetera etcetera. He’s like a broken record. It’s just not effective. It makes people tune him out. Heck, I support the surge in Iraq, yet his broken-recorditis makes ME tune him out. There are plenty of other ways to make the case. He needs to try a few of those other explanations on for size.
Fourth, Bush continues to defend the indefensible Alberto Gonzales. Let’s cue up a cheesy Shanie Twain song: Okay, so he’s loyal to a friend. That don’t impress me much. Even if Bush IS going to stand by Gonzales, the way to do it is not by merely saying that he has “done nothing wrong” (meaning illegal), but instead to try to make a case (it’s a tough case to make, by the way), through concrete example, that Gonzales is doing a good job. Furthermore, he continues to dismiss the ongoing investigations as “just political theatre,” when the truth is that while political theatre and cheap shots by some Democrats are part of it, there are serious questions about both judgment and competence at issue and it is a president’s job to show concern about failures of judgment and competence and to insist that those failures be corrected. By treating the inquiries as a mere nuisance, Bush further corrodes public faith in his commitment to administrative excellence.
Look, Bush delivered on tax cuts. He delivered two good Supreme Court justices (after one very false start) and some good appellate judges. He advocated personal accounts in Social Security, and earlier this year he proposed a very thoughtful new health care plan. He rallied us after 9/11, he overthrew the Taliban, he got rid of Saddam Hussein, he has stood tall for a “culture of life,” and he has done other good, conservative things.
But Lord Almighty, the man doesn’t learn from mistakes, doesn’t hold appointees to high standards, doesn’t listen well even to constructive criticism, and hasn’t yet learned how and when to take the fight to the Left without quickly retreating behind repetitive platitudes.
We conservatives are left to grieve for what might have been…. or, in the alternative, to redouble our own efforts to promote the conservative principles that Bush either has abandoned or, more often, has failed to adequately explain in public. The question for us isn’t whether or not to back Bush, it is whether or not to do the work to carry our own cause. Where Bush is at least trying to support that cause, it then behooves us to carry him along with us as well. As I’ve said before, quoting Ben Franklin, we shall all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.