Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PUNDIT REVIEW....The New York Times reflects on George Bush's character:

Other wrong turns, however, were chosen because of a fundamental flaw in the character of this White House. Despite his tough talk, Mr. Bush seems incapable of choosing a genuinely tough path, of risking his political popularity with the same aggression that he risks the country's economic stability and international credibility. For all the trauma the United States has gone through during his administration, Mr. Bush has never asked the American people to respond to new challenges by making genuine sacrifices.

This unwillingness to take political risks is indeed a key to Bush's character. I can't think of a single major policy initiative he's taken that compares, say, to Bill Clinton's healthcare plan: something that he believes in so deeply that it's worth pushing for even though it runs the risk of being unpopular. This is one of the key differences between Bush and Tony Blair, for example.

Still, the Times and I are both shrill and unreliable liberals. So what does David Brooks, the Times' new conservative voice think?

The Bush administration has the most infuriating way of changing its mind. The leading Bushies almost never admit serious mistakes. They never acknowledge that they are listening to their critics. They never even admit they are shifting course. They don these facial expressions suggesting calm omniscience while down below their legs are doing the fox trot in six different directions.

That's true too. A fundamental part of Bush's personality is to never back down, never admit error, and to compromise only as an absolute last resort. Of course, you could also put it a little more harshly than Brooks:

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.

That's the normally non-shrill Josh Marshall, who's very tired indeed of Bush blaming everyone but himself for everything that goes wrong.

On the other hand, he looks good in a flight suit. That's got to count for something.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne make similar points about "sacrifice," or the lack thereof, in Bush's speech.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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