Friday, January 16, 2009

Where Bush went wrong, Part I

As I was saying earlier, I never wished ill for President Bush.
He should never have been president in the first place. He lost the 2000 election by more than half a million votes, but still took the oath of office thanks to some miscast votes in Florida (Elderly Jews for Buchanan!), the antiquated and anti-democratic Electoral College system, and a special assist from five partisan Repubicans on the Supreme Court.
At the time, I actually felt a little sorry for Bush having to take office with the stigma of being the popular-vote loser. I assumed that as a result he would try and govern in a mostly bi-partisan manner befitting the almost dead-even split among the American electorate.
But instead Bush chose to take the path of extreme partisanship and steered his presidency with an ideological compass.
As governor of Texas, Bush had been adequately successful. It’s not hard to do, since most of the power lies with the Lt. Gov. anyway and the governor is mostly a figurehead. Bush was in his element as governor and he struck up a good working relationship with conservative Democrats like House Speaker Pete Laney and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.
If he had continued down that path upon moving to Washington, Bush’s legacy might be quite different today. But once he got to the White House, Bush decided he didn’t need bipartisanship. Afterall, Democrats were in the minority in the House and Senate and Republicans were the trancendent power in Washington (even if they had lost the popular vote) and they weren’t about to moderate their goals after having waited this long to finally be in control of the whole shooting match.
So Bush left Bob Bullock in Texas and instead took Karl Rove to Washington. And from that point on, Rove’s harsh, bareknuckle partisanship set the tone for the Bush White House.
Had Bush been more willing to compromise and put aside ideological differences, he might have avoided or at least tempered some of the bigger mistakes during his administration. But by stubbornly sticking to his guns on everything from tax cuts to neo-con foreign policy fantasies, he ended up running the ship of state aground and we are still trying to assess and fix the damage today.
If, for example, after his first round of tax cuts wound up wiping out most of the Clinton-era surpluses without any tangible boost to the economy, Bush had reconsidered his position and perhaps tried a somewhat different course, then perhaps his economic legacy would not be on par with that of Herbert Hoover.
Or, if he had been a little less ideologically driven on health care and education, he might have kept Sen. Jim Jeffords in the Republican fold and avoided losing the Senate to the Democrats midway through his first term.
I don’t know that I believe 9/11 could have been avoided even if Bush had been meeting regularly with Richard Clarke and his anti-terrorist security team and even if he had taken that FBI memo seriously, so I’m apt to give him a pass as far as that goes. And his initial decision to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is one that I and most other Americans supported.
Where things started to go seriously wrong was the buildup to the Iraq invasion based on bogus, manufactured evidence and guided by a neo-con fantasy that had been waiting for just this kind of opportunity to assert itself on the world stage.
Once again, Bush closed himself off to foreign policy realists like Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft and instead took all of his council from radical rightwing neocons like Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz. It was a pattern that would continue to repeat itself throughout Bush’s presidency.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two positive achievements

Jonathan Gurwitz today does his best to try an prop up the George W. Bush “legacy” and gives us two, yes TWO, credible examples of positive things that Bush achieved during his eight years in office.

PEPFAR: Tthe President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is the largest commitment by any nation to fight a single disease in history. Begun by Bush in 2003, it represents a five-year, $15 billion commitment to stop the global spread of AIDS, especially in 15 focus countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

The Naivasha Agreement: Bush's personal commitment to negotiate a peace agreement that helped bring an end to the second Sudanese civil war, one of the bloodiest conflicts of modern history that caused the deaths of as many as 2 million civilians over two decades.

Two positive achievements in eight years. To that I suppose I could respond with the old adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day. But then I would surely be accused of being “afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome” and thus “simply incapable of acknowledging that a president who (I) believed was so God-awful wrong could possibly do anything right.”

But I never wished ill for President Bush. It is true that I am a partisan Democrat and that I did not vote for him. But I am also a Texan and I had the distinct privilege of getting to interview the man on half a dozen occasions when he was governor. For the last couple of interviews he even remembered my name. I thought that was pretty neat! So while I did not support him politically, I certainly did not want to see him end up as the most despised president of last century.
As governor, Bush had done an adequate job and had run his administration in a mostly bi-partisan nature under the tutelage of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. But when he went to D.C., he did not take Bob Bullock with him. He took Karl Rove. And that is where Bush’s downfall ultimately began.
More on that in a bit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hall of Fame 2009

The Hall of Fame balloting went by so fast I nearly missed it.
Rickey Henderson, the All-Time stolen bases leader, made it in on the first try as expected.
But the big news is that former Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice made it in on his 15th and final try before being relegated to the old-timers ballot.
I’m thrilled for Rice and I’m sorry for Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines, all of whom missed the mark yet again.
One sports writer thinks Dawson and Blyleven have a good shot of making it in over the next three years as there are not a lot of sure-thing players coming up for induction during that period. Blyleven, in particular, is the odd man out of the Hall right now being the 5th all-time strike out leader, whereas all the other All-Time strike out leaders from No. 1 to No. 16 are already enshrined. Blyleven just had the misfortune of playing most of his career for a bunch of losing teams which kept him just short of the magic 300 win mark.
Oh, but I can’t fail to mention that the Baseball Hall of Fame will continue to be a joke as long as All Time Hits Leader Pete Rose is left out for “crimes” he committed that had no impact on his playing career.

Let Obama have his Blackberry!

The NYT reports the other day that the Secret Service and White House lawyers are trying to strip President-elect Obama of his Blackberry before the inauguration citing a litany of security and legal reasons.
This is wrong.
I’m not impressed with any of the reasons given for taking Obama’s Blackberry away. The idea that hackers could get into his Blackberry and access top secret information is silly. He is not going to be issuing executive orders or reviewing top secret documents with his Blackberry. The notion that a terrorist could somehow track Obama’s location through his Blackberry is also paranoid and impractical. What you are going to end up with is a situation where Obama is constantly surrounded by top aides and advisors where he is the only one in the room who does not have a Blackberry.
And legal fears that Obama’s every text message could wind up being subpoenaed by litigious critics is just something that needs to be dealt with legislatively if it has not been already.
The President needs his personal space to think and breathe and reflect and to essentially be who he is. We don’t want to take the person we just elected and then substantially change him by cutting him off from his support network. We’ve already seen that it is not good to have a president who is locked in a bubble all the time.

Still waiting

I find it rather odd that the new Congress has been sworn in and yet we still have to wait another full week before the new president takes the oath of office.
I assume that the new bills that Congress is passing right now will wait until Obama is president before going to the Oval Office for a signature. But just the idea that Bush could still veto legislation passed by the new Congress strikes me as really bizarre.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio will leave the Senate when his term expires in 2010 joining fellow Republican lawmakers Mel Martinez of Florida, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Kit Bond of Missouri in another mass exodus. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is almost certain to make that five or more when she is expected to announce her departure to run for governor of Texas.
So unless Obama royally screws things up over the next two years, this all bodes very well for Democratic prospects of achieving a full-blown filibuster-proof majority in two years.
I think especially if Republicans come across as obstructing Obama’s efforts to bolster the economy, they are going to have no better luck in 2010 than they did in 2006 or 2008. The tarnish on the Republican brand from Bush/Cheney may take a generation or more to finally wear off. If they are lucky.