kolmapäev, märts 24, 2004


This is a great column in general, but the last two paragraphs seem to be the key to what's wrong with Bush:

It's funny, in retrospect, that Bush ran for president as a uniter. To unite a country, you have to acknowledge and reconcile differences. Bush doesn't work toward unity; he assumes it. He doesn't reconcile differences; he denies them. It's his tax cut or nothing. It's his homeland security bill or nothing. It's his terrorism policy or nothing. If you're playing politics, this is smart strategy. But if you're trying to help the country, it's foolish. The odds are that 50 percent of the other party's ideas are right. By ruling them out, you start your presidency 50 percent wrong.

Some of the resulting mistakes may be inconsequential. Some may cost 3,000 lives. Some may cost 2 million jobs. "If the Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years … we would not have had the kind of job growth we've had," Cheney bragged three weeks ago. That's the way this administration thinks: We do things differently. But being different doesn't guarantee you a better result—just a different one.

I'm always disgusted when Bush tries to pretend that Democrats are really responsible for division in Washington, when he claims he really tried to be a uniter. Some people dismiss the extreme partisanship in politics today as a symptom of the deeply divided nature of our country today. I don't buy that. Sure, there's maybe 30% of people who are so skewed that you'll never get them behind you. I'm talking here about the kind of people who worship the Gospels according to Coulter, Limbaugh, and Moore. It's one thing to listen to those guys for entertainment, but it's another to believe every word they say. The other 70% are up for grabs. I can't imagine there's anything Clinton could have done to get the support of a Limbaugh fan. Among the country in general, though, once the economy started turning around, he was very well liked. Despite the partisan anger in Congress, he had the support of a lot of Republicans in the public a lot of the time. That, of course, changed somewhat after the whole impeachment thing, but the point is that he didn't govern in an intentionally divisive way.

There's a lot to be said for that. There is also, certainly, a downside. Clinton is often criticized by liberals for compromising too much and being too centrist precisely because he wanted everyone to like him. This is a problem Bush doesn't have. As long as enough people like him to get him re-elected, he doesn't much care what the rest of us think. We all just fall in the "against us" category and we are therefore disregarded. This is, ultimately, a result of Bush's narrow-minded insistence that his way is the only way. He's had many opportunities to compromise but he refuses on principle, regardless of whether the compromise is better policy. When Democrats tried to expand the tax credit to poorer families, for example, Bush rejected it, despite the fact that putting money in the hands of people who desperately need money practically guarantees they will spend it right away, thus stimulating the economy. Instead, Bush insisted on giving the biggest chunk of his tax cut to rich people who were much less likely to spend it. In terms of stimulus, giving more money to the people who need money seems like the obviously preferrable option, but it wasn't Bush's idea and it would help people who won't vote for him, so he opposed it. Even when his approval ratings were artificially inflated by fears of terrorism, Bush made no gestures to work with Democrats. The few times that he did, as with Ted Kennedy and the Medicare bill, he intentionally screwed them.

I have a friend who recently told me that it isn't Bush's fault and Al Gore would be just as divisive. This is why I would disagree. Gore's agenda was very centrist and, once you got through the GOP propaganda, not very objectionable. I would say the same for Kerry's. Bush's policies directed at privatizing as many government programs as he can, ballooning the deficit, cutting taxes as much as possible, and actively seeking to piss off our allies justifiably bother a lot of people. But in the end, we're talking about style here, not substance. People say Clinton could sell anything and I believe it. And if he couldn't sell it, he'd keep trying until he did. Bush? He can't even sell members of his own party on immigration reform. And that doesn't seem to bother him at all.

After all, he's a uniter. Who cares how many people he actually unites? He just keeps saying it, so it must be true. He did restore honor and integrity to the White House, you know.

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