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August 02, 2005


by Garry Trudeau, Feb. 2003 (hm, can't see image in preview: click to see)

That's the mainstream media for you: telling us today what we read in Doonesbury 2 years ago.

What I still don't get is how he can run the most secretive, privileged administration imaginable yet is still seen by most of his supporters as a regular-guy populist. If we had to pick between the demise of phony images, I think I'd rather see his cowboy hat in tatters than his Imperial push-broom hat.

How to reconcile the secrecy and the regular-guy-ism?

Secrecy protects action. In Bushworld, it's the antithesis of bureaucratic paper-pushing, "Blue Ribbon Panel" studies, and Congressional inquiry findings. "The Man" wants things filed in triplicate. But for gritty, street-smart Dirty Dubya, paperwork is for sissies! He may aggravate the crusty, old Captain's ulcer, or trigger the irritable bowel syndrome of the Commissioner, but Dirty Dubya gits th' job done! While the other gumshoes wait around for "warrants" or "probable cause," Dirty Dubya will "make your day" before you know what hit you!

Grr! Yehaw!

Except the doesn't get the job done.

Gallup Poll Vault
Is George W. Bush an Effective Manager?
A slight majority of Americans, 53%, say George W. Bush can manage the government effectively. This is Bush's lowest score on this measure since he took office in 2001. Bush's high point on this measure came in October 2001, nearly a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At that time, 79% said Bush could manage the government effectively. In January 2003, when Gallup last asked this question, 67% said he was an effective manager. [Jul 22-24, 2005; Jan 10-12, 2003; Oct 5-6, 2001]

Kagro, in other words he is in the pink for several points of the proposed liberal candidate litmus test:

Does he talk like a bureaucrat or like a regular person?

Does he back down when the corporate press/media or [...] pundits attack him, or does he stand by his words?

How 53% of Americans can think he's effective at managing government suggests that slightly more than half the population thinks managing government is like "managing" a terminal disease -- not quite curing it, but keeping it in remission. Unfortunately there are side effects.


Is it any wonder, then, that there's so much emphasis placed on swing voters, especially by "centrist" Democrats? Who wants candidates that talk "like a regular person?" Who wants candidates who don't "back down when the corporate press/media or pundits attack?"

The right? The left? Well, gosh and golly, everyone does!

So, what makes this a "liberal litmus test?" Well, a liberal wrote it.

So there you have it. It's the Democratic Brand(TM) for the month. Until someone restates it next month.

I guess Reagan similarly was hypersecretive & claimed outrageous executive privilege, and nevertheless seen as a folksy populist. Honestly, I'm not sure I can in my heart hold it against him (or Bush, even?) -- the secrecy & privilege is the executive doing what the excutive is supposed to do. The Congress that rolls over on its back, tongue lolling out, asking the Pres for a belly rub is the problem (as this post points out). Regardless of who's in the white house.

True for Bush. But Bill Clinton didn't give us an interruption in the drive for the imperial presidency that arose as a consequence of the Cold War. Indeed, Clinton was positively Nixonian in some of his arrogation of powers.

The Supreme Court ought to be protecting us against the Imperial Presidency, but it has been leaning more and more toward giving the Executive branch a scepter and orb.

An obvious example of this was the Court's decision favoring the imperial vice presidency's right to withhold information regarding Dick Cheney's energy task force.

Not all Court decisions have gone in favor of the Executive, but when they haven't there have been powerful dissents from Scalia which indicate the future direction a more reactionary Court is likely to take.

It's no surprise that Bush finds Scalia to be the type of thinker he'd like to appoint to the Court - we'll see if Roberts turns out to be one. Throughout his career, Scalia has suggested in many dissents that the Constitution gives the President the power to make all policy choices delegated by Congress to the executive branch. He has, for instance, written that restrictions on the President's power to fire policy-making persons are unconstitutional.

Few presidents can resist the temptation to accrete more power, and if the Supreme Court says OK, what's to stop them? What's truly scary is to have this relaxation of checks and balances at a time when the sitting president makes remarks like these:

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

Something the hubby and I got into a long discussion about last night (which I'll write a post on if I can ever shake the Plame obsession):

It really seems like, of the US, Iran, and China, the US is really the least competent. Iran and China have both been brilliant at laying out and adhering to a long-term strategy that integrates a very nuanced understanding of the power relationships involved. While the neocons might have had a long-term strategy, they bungle the short term execution of it. Further, there's a real conflit of interests among neocon leaders, which results in a policy dragged along by the special interests.

Anyway, I'm curious what you guys think. But I'm also really fascinated about how, in a democratic system, we've been less successful at selecting competent leaders than in authoritarian systems like Iran and China. Hu Jintao is brilliant, IMO. Bush, not so much. What is it about the CP selection system (beyond its penchant for engineer types) that makes it pick effective leaders. Whereas with our dysfunctional democracy, we get Bush.

We not only get Bush, we get Frist, Hastert and DeLay. The best and the brightest don't go in for politics these days.


I think you're comparing apples and oranges in a way. The logic of an authoritarian system allows for the kinds of long-term planning you mention in a way a democratic system does not. Our system is (supposedly) built to be flexible and allow for change: women's suffrage, Civil Rights, etc. This flexibility, which is, in many ways, responsible for our dynamism, is a serious inhibitor of the kinds of long-term strategies you mention. Foreign policy objectives can change dramatically from administration to administration. This does not happen in Iran.

The quality of leaders in all systems goes up and down. What makes the difference are the layers of bureaucracy and control inherent in an authoritarian system which can limit the "damage" a bad leader can do – the Politburo was able to take control from Soviet leaders in a way Congress and SCOTUS can not, and the clerics in Iran can overrule the president whenever they feel like it. Additionally, totalitarian systems do not have a (supposedly) free press looking over their shoulder, (supposedly) asking uncomfortable questions.

In this way it is interesting to look at PNAC and friends, as it is an attempt to force the kind of imperial thinking and planning onto the American system. And, although these are some scary times, I note with optimism that despite the best efforts of the neocons, their plan has fallen far, far short of expectations. Part of this may be because such a view is, by definition, a minority view in this country they have much more work to do than a prospective dictator in China or Iran. But part of it is also definitely because the caliber of the people attracted to PNAC: these are not the best and brightest we have to offer, and their success owes as much to circumstances beyond their control (9/11) as it does to their abilities. Put another way, had LBJ or Clinton decided to make an imperial presidency, I think they would've been much, much more successful.

We not only get Bush, we get Frist, Hastert and DeLay. The best and the brightest don't go in for politics these days.

In other words, we go to war with the politicians we have, not the politicians we'd like to have.

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