Thursday, January 29, 2004

Update

A friend of mine read the post below, and watched the ad I liked, and had a completely contrary reaction. I'm posting my friend's comments here (anonymously, with permission) because I think they encapsulate quite well a certain pro-Bush position that is central to any fair assessment of the man's strengths (and weaknesses). (Note: you have to have watched the ad to make sense of what follows.)

"The unintended flip side of the ad expresses the feelings of many other people. Bush will paint the apartment. His roommates will complain, carp, debate, get high, talk about all the other things that need to be done around the house, ultimately doing nothing. Bush sees a need for a paint job, he arranges for it to be done.

"You can complain about the details of what Bush has done over the past several years. But you can't reasonably complain (though some always will) that he hasn't done anything. The guy doesn't claim to have all the answers. He's flexible and adaptive. He compromises often. And he gets things done. Educational standards? Done. Campaign finance? Done. Prescription drug benefits? Done. The Taliban? Done. Tax reductions? Done. (And to anyone who would vote for a Democratic candidate, I would urge them to go to one of the many online 'Bush Tax Cut Calculators,' find out how much they've saved in taxes over the past several years, and donate that amount to their Democratic candidate of choice, just in the interest of ideological consistency.) Whatever he sets out to do, he does. (4/5's of the Iraqi deck of cards. 2/3's of known al Qaeda leaders.) Take your recent sex slavery blog entry. Bush spoke out about the need to do something to stop that brand of exploitation. (Were any other major political figures in the US speaking out about it? Was this a problem that didn't exist during the Clinton years?) And, according to the article's laundry list of recent legislation pushed through by the administration, he followed through. Bush makes things happen. Whether you like the color green or not, a fresh coat of paint is better than pock-marked, dingy, pizza-smeared walls.

"I'm frightened by Bush's success. But, in a lot of ways, it's nice to see a leader, rather than a poll-reader and hand-wringer, in the White House. And when people feel unsafe (as many still do, after 9/11), that's the kind of President they want."

My response is basically: I don't think I made the complaint that Bush isn't doing anything, and if I did I would recant it. He's certainly a busy man. And as I tried to express in my first post, there's a fair amount of that busyness that I can't help but find admirable. He is, in fact, getting a lot of things done, or at least pushing others towards getting things a lot of things done (immigration reform, educational standards, faith-based initiatives, etc.) that I approve of, his response to the Taliban most triumphantly. But that's not sufficient. Maybe he is flexible and adaptable; but maybe that's another way of saying careless and inconsistent. All too often there is an irresponsibility, insularity, and ignorance in how he crafts, articulates, and pursues--and frequently dismisses, if they don't seem be meeting with instant public acclaim--his policies. (See Hendrik Hertzberg's devastating take-down of Bush's SOTU speech for more on this.) And I'm speaking here of those intentions of Bush's which I agree with. It goes without saying that there are also a lot of elements of Bush's political platform which I dislike--and as the occupation of Iraq has gone on, more and more of these have emerged.

Granted, it's more fun to say that Bush is evil incarnate than to allow that he's a decent man with some good ideas and some bad ones, capable in some ways and completely over his head in some (ever-more important) others. But the latter, more nuanced view is the more accurate one--and in fact, I suspect that the more the former view predominates, the easier it will be for Bush & Co. to continue to stigmatize their enemies, and go on without any engagement with the real world.