Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Like Fish in Barrel (JM)

Compassionate to the End

Whoa… I think this might be an article about secretly awesome GWB has been all along. There has been a surprising lack of these types of articles which makes this gem even more special.

By Michael Gerson
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; A15

When President Bush took his final walk to the rostrum of the House chamber, his speech and manner conveyed little nostalgia. He views both meditation on the past and speculation about his legacy with equal suspicion, preferring to live in the urgency of the now. So his last State of the Union address had no Reagan-like, misty-eyed wistfulness. It was the most matter-of-fact of his congressional addresses: a clear theme -- trusting the people -- developed at a brisk pace, with modest proposals and an edge of impatience at congressional loitering. He seemed to be saying: "With a year to go, sentiment be damned."

I mean if I were GWB this is about the only thing I would have handled in the exact same way. There was very little to be nostalgic about, very little sentiment to be share. The man was given a speech to a room full of people who hated him. Nancy Pelosi was quoted as saying, “Poor baby…” and was then asked if she was okay with that being on the record and she said yes. Think of how far a president has to fall for the Speaker of the House to be comfortable saying that!

But there is nothing to prevent me from waxing nostalgic. Watching the speech, I recalled meeting Gov. Bush of Texas in the spring of 1999, before he was a declared candidate. He talked with rushed intensity about being a "different kind of Republican," dedicated to racial healing and helping the poor and determined to provide moral leadership as a contrast and corrective to the Clinton years. Because I believed him, I left journalism and joined his campaign.

Ooh, this is sure to be unbiased. Perhaps, this will be a column about how you were duped and GWB doesn’t heal racial divides or help the poor.

It is conventional wisdom that Bush's idealism is either a fraud or has been pushed aside completely by the priorities of war. Slate editor Jacob Weisberg argues that Bush's claim to be a compassionate conservative is "largely fictional." A liberal organization called Americans United for Change recently promised to spend $8.5 million on political attack ads against noncandidate Bush, out of fear that Bush hatred in America might mellow during his final year as president.

But historical legacies are not determined by the same advertising techniques that sell toothpaste. And history's unhurried judgments are sometimes surprising -- few would have elevated Harry Truman to the first rank of presidents on the day Dwight Eisenhower took office.

This is just an atrocious argument: 1) “Same advertising techniques that sell toothpaste”?! I mean seriously, if you wanted a real strawman why didn’t you go all the way and use “same advertising techniques that sell adult diapers”? These also happen to be the way we sell medicine, ideas and, oh, political candidates. Media matters, my friend, it is silly to think otherwise; 2) It took a while for us to recognize Truman’s greatness… this, of course, is a sample size of one that proves absolutely nothing. But fine, I will admit it, there is a nonzero chance we will look back on his legacy years from now and place him in the top tier of presidents. However, I suspect that will only be likely if somewhere, in a secret underground lab, right now, GWB just cured cancer, AIDS, and created an unlimited, renewable energy supply. Even then… that’s Nobel Prize worth, he was still a dreadful president. But more important than any of this, you have to actually give reasons, not just point out that someone else was evaluated too quickly.

My goal is a humbler assessment: Did President Bush, in the course of seven years, cast aside compassion and become the "same kind of Republican"?

The answer is no. Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush's persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration.

Seriously, wow to the forty fifth power. The Skelator administration would have enslaved us all and put us to work on building a giant ray-gun to destroy Castle Greyskull, the Dahmer administration would have had a very peculiar school lunch plan, and don’t get me started on the Steinbrenner administration. Way to set the bar high, Michael Gerson! Also NCLB and the prescription drug benefit were compassionate to no one. I give you the AIDS and malaria initiative and also think it’s funny that even you think Cheney would have ignored AIDS and malaria.

This leaves critics of the Bush administration with a "besides" problem. Bush is a heartless and callous conservative, "besides" the 1.4 million men, women and children who are alive because of treatment received through his AIDS initiative . . . "besides" the unquestioned gains of African American and Hispanic students in math and reading . . . "besides" 32 million seniors getting help to afford prescription drugs, including 10 million low-income seniors who get their medicine pretty much free. Iraq may have overshadowed these achievements; it does not eliminate them.

Hi there, I question the “gains” of African American and Hispanic students. Almost all educational research groups have said that NCLB is a resounding failure. Prescription drug access is limited and many seniors are paying as much if not more for their medication. Also, there are many many better plans that could have been created than this boondoggle for the healthcare industry. Again, I give you the AIDS thing, but all told many more have died because of the Iraq War and you are citing a policy Pol Pot probably would have supported. Silly.

The Bush administration, in my view, should have devoted more resources and creativity to its faith-based initiatives. It should not have vetoed the State Children's Health Insurance Program expansion. The president's budget and economic teams have not been populated with enthusiastic compassionate conservatives, and sometimes this has shown. But by any fair historical measure, Bush's achievements on social justice at least equal those of Bill Clinton, who increased the earned-income tax credit, pushed for children's health coverage and reformed welfare to encourage work.

I suspect this is seriously untrue, but I really don’t feel like doing tons of research right now. Here’s the main difference though, Bill Clinton faced an incredibly insane Republican Congress for most of his administration and was so busy keeping them from returning us to the policies of 1890 that the fact that we even still have entitlement programs is something of a miracle. GWB had every opportunity to really try and fix problems with a Congress over which he had control and a unified public after 9-11. He squandered ever opportunity.

Bush has received little attention or thanks for his compassionate reforms. This is less a reflection on him than on the political challenge of compassionate conservatism. The conservative movement gives the president no credit because it views all these priorities -- foreign assistance, a federal role in education, the expansion of an entitlement -- as heresies, worthy of the stake. Liberals and Democrats offer no praise because a desire to help dying Africans, minority students and low-income seniors does not fit the image of Bush's cruelty that they wish to cultivate.

Seriously, you cannot make this shit up. Again, you’re wrong about minority students and low income seniors and I grant you AIDS. If you really want to highlight Bush’s compassionate conservatism the correct issue is immigration. Even I agree with him on that issue, he stance is thoughtful and, at times, when he speaks about it I don’t want to hate him nearly as much as I do. But the insane, xenophobic protectionistas of the Right (and some equally despicable types on the Left) refused to do anything that amounted to compassion on this issue, robbing GWB of his one real shot at a good legacy.

Compassionate conservatism is thus a cause without a constituency -- except for the large-hearted man I first met in 1999 and who, on Monday night, proposed to double global AIDS spending once again.

I mean seriously, you couldn’t find ANYTHING else. ANYTHING, just AIDS, which, while important, doesn’t prove that GWB is, in fact, compassionate. Also not a surprise that compassionate conservatism has no constituency, not a surprise at all.

But it was only a hint of his former boldness. On policy, this State of the Union was the least ambitious effort of an ambitious presidency. Given the short calendar and a hostile Congress, there was no other option. The time for boldness has passed. But in his speech he seemed his same, confident self. And one source of his confidence should be this: His achievements are larger than his critics understand.

Oh, I think I agree, his achievements are quite large, just not terribly good. I think it is fair to state that we have to look at the complete picture of a presidency over time before making judgments. However, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, lack of environmental regulations, terrible Supreme Court and executive appointments, the aftermath of Katrina, the Iraq War and an general unwillingness to do anything to help the vastly growing divide between rich and poor America, this seems like a pretty unchangeable legacy…

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