Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: How Bush blew his chance
Posted on 09/15/2002 9:34:11 PM PDT by Pokey78
The president's speech to the United Nations was perfectly straightforward. His remarks at Ellis Island were also fine: I especially liked the way, in contrast to certain predecessors who shall remain nameless, his salute to the American spirit wasn't all about him. But the anniversary has passed, Year Two has begun, and those of who are partial to George W. Bush have nevertheless had to get used yet again to the old familiar pattern. Anyone who followed the guy during the 2000 campaign will recognize it.
He stacked up more money and a bigger poll lead than anyone had ever seen in a competitive race--and then he didn't bother campaigning in New Hampshire. So he lost the primary.
But he clawed his way back and won the nomination--and then he pretty much disappeared from sight to spend the summer working on his new ranch house back in Texas. So by Labor Day, Al Gore was ahead in the polls.
But he roused himself and eked out a small lead in the run-up to November--and then, in the wake of a damaging last-minute leak about an old DWI conviction, he flew back home and took the final weekend of the campaign off.
But he just about squeaked through on Election Day, even though his disinclination to rebut the drunk story almost certainly cost him the popular vote and a couple of close states.
This is the way George W. Bush does things, and his rendezvous with history on Sept. 11--the day that ''changed the world''--did not, in the end, change the Bush modus operandi. A few weeks after the attacks, he had the highest approval ratings of any president in history. But he didn't do anything with them. And, in political terms, he might as well have spent this summer playing golf and watching the director's cut of Austin Powers.
On Election Day in November, without Saddam's scalp on his bedpost, Bush will be right back where he was on Sept. 10, 2001: the 50 percent president, his approval ratings in the 50s, his ''negatives'' high, the half of the country that didn't vote for him feeling no warmer toward him than if the day that ''changed the world'' had never happened. The 90 percent poll numbers were always going to come down. It was just a question of where they stabilized, and what Bush would manage to accomplish while they were up in the stratosphere. By that measure, he squandered his opportunity.
The first casualty was his domestic agenda. Even as the USAF was strafing Tora Bora, Vermont's wily Sen. Pat Leahy continued to stall the president's judicial nominations; Ted Kennedy gutted the Bush education bill, and their fellow Democrats obstructed plans for oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At that moment, with his poll numbers in the 80s, it would have been so easy for Bush to do to Leahy what Clinton did to Gingrich.
The president could have said that, with so many suspected terrorists and their accomplices in custody, we can't afford vacancies and backlogs in our courthouses and my good frien' Pat needs to stop playin' politics with the federal judiciary. He could have said that wartime is no time for Congress to put preserving the integrity of Alaska's most pristine mosquito habitat over the energy needs of America. Sept. 11 is not just an event, hermetically sealed from everything before and after, but a context: Everything that's wrong with the eco-zealots, with the teachers' unions, with the big-government bureaucracies can be seen in their responses to that day. Bush should have struck in their hour of weakness; instead, he gave them all a pass: The time-servers and turf-protectors in the FBI, CIA and the other hotshot acronyms that failed America on 9/11 are all still in their jobs.
Perhaps the president's greatest mistake was his failure to take on the enervating Oprahfied therapeutic culture that, in the weeks after Sept. 11, looked momentarily vulnerable. There were two kinds of responses to that awful day. You could go with ''C'mon, guys, let's roll!'' the words of Todd Beamer as he and the brave passengers of Flight 93 took on their Islamist hijackers. Or you could go with ''healing'' and ''closure'' and the rest of the awful inert language of emotional narcissism. Had Bush taken it upon himself to talk up the virtues of courage and self-reliance demonstrated on Flight 93, he would have done a service not just to his nation but to his party, for a touchy-feely culture inevitably trends Democratic.
But he ducked the rhetorical challenge. And so, to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11, the teachers union encouraged us to stand around in a ''healing circle,'' so that America's children can master the consolations of victimhood rather than the righteous anger of the unjustly attacked. Same for the grown-ups: On TV, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung and the rest of the all-star sob sisters were out in force with full supporting saccharine piano accompaniment. The elites decided America's anger needed to be managed. It was a very Sept. 10 commemoration of Sept. 11. As the law professor Eugene Volokh put it to his own students, ''Wake up and smell the burning bodies.'' Despite the flags and the more robust country songs, Bush has allowed the culture to lapse back into its default mode of psychobabbling self-absorption.
In the end, even Bush's magnificent moral clarity faded away into a Colin Powellite blur. Long after it became clear that 3,000 Americans were killed by Saudi citizens with Saudi money direct from members of the Saudi royal family, Bush was still inviting Saudi princes to the Crawford ranch and insisting that the kingdom was a ''staunch friend'' in the war against terror. This is not just ridiculous but offensive. Even if it's merely ''rope-a-dope'' and behind the scenes all kinds of plans are being made, the public evasions diminish the president's authority. Symbolism matters. The White House is for business, the privilege of kicking loose at the ranch ought to be reserved for real friends. Yet Australia's John Howard, whose boys fought alongside the United States in Afghanistan, didn't get an invite to Crawford, and the fellows who bankrolled al-Qaida did.
In January, naming Iraq as part of the ''axis of evil,'' Bush declared that ''time is running out." Eight months later, time had run back in again. ''I'm a patient man,'' the president says every couple of days now. By May, the American people were back to ticking ''education'' as the most pressing issue facing the nation. Four months ago, I wrote that if war with Iraq isn't under way by the first anniversary of Sept. 11, George W. Bush might as well nickname himself President Juan Term. Since then, the evaporation of the Bush presidency has only accelerated. George W. Bush's modesty is endearing. But even a modest man needs to use the bully pulpit once in a while.
One of the few Steyn columns I disagree with.
Although I find Steyn's idea of using 9/11 as "political capital" mildly clinton-esque (ie. offensive), I do agree with the above point.
Mark Helprin, writing in the WSJ, has a real hit piece on W as well.
The FreeRepublic style book at its finest.
LOL, Mark must be losing it. A conservative journalist believing that a Republican President can demonize an rat the way the MEDIA, not Klink, demonized Gingrich. What was Bush gonna do, forcibly install Conservatives at ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and every University in America to head those institutions.
And one other thing Bush doesn't care if he is a one term President, he cares about defanging the radical Islamists. Steyn offers no program to do that, just inane criticism. Bush is on target, Iraq's next and when Iraq falls and the military bases are expanded in Qatar, the House of Saud is going to be in a world of hurt.
Four months ago, I wrote that if war with Iraq isn't under way by the first anniversary of Sept. 11, George W. Bush might as well nickname himself President Juan Term. Since then, the evaporation of the Bush presidency has only accelerated.
Only Steyn predicted that we'd be liberating Iraq by 9/11/02. And the day he printed that I thought he was dead wrong.
Now who knows what is going on in Kurdish Iraq with Special Forces. Technically, we may have already started. But there was no way that we'd have tanks and troops on the outskirts of Baghdad by now. Logistics & weather conditions dictated that, even if the will was there.
Bush has been "... going with 'C'mon, guys, let's roll!' the words of Todd Beamer as he and the brave passengers of Flight 93 took on their Islamist hijackers."
And he has been " ... talking up the virtues of courage and self-reliance demonstrated on Flight 93 ..."
... the media just haven't been telling anyone. The talking heads are the one spewing the garbage.
Those who are able to see the President's frequent speeches live on tv know what he is saying. Those who only hear sound bites get the liberal-filtered version.
Maybe he'll wait a while and the Dems will start DEMANDING he attack. Dolts.
Steyn is assuming what we see is what is. But Bush knows the Art of War, and the necessity to feign incapacity.
"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."
Bush did all of that, was Mark sleeping? Was he also sleeping when the Battle Hymn of the Republic was played instead of funeral parlor music? Did he miss the wanted dead or alive declaration?
I sometimes feel I live in an entirely different universe than the smart people in high places.
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