Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SCORING BUSH....I'm not sure I really want to open this can of worms, but I'm sort of curious about something, so I guess I will after all.

Here's the background question: was it reasonable back in January for a liberal to believe that George Bush was serious about building a moderately stable, tolerant, and democratic Iraq? I believed that for a while, but once Bush's plans (or lack thereof) started to become clear I changed my mind, and that combined with some extreme fishiness about Iraq's WMD eventually led me to turn against the war.

But how could I possible have believed this in the first place? After all, my friends tell me, you know what Bush is like. He's a corrupt, thieving, crony capitalist and everything he touches turns to shit. Why would you give him the benefit of the doubt even for a minute?

The reason is simple: I loathe Bush primarily because I loathe his policy goals, not his ability to execute them, and in this case it seemed reasonable that his policy goals and mine might be pretty similar. Sure, he'd try to throw some business to his pals, but even a completely cynical reading of the man would tell you that a peaceful, stable, moderately free and democratic Iraq was something Bush genuinely wanted. After all, it's good for reelection and it's good for business.

So given that there were decent reasons to think he really wanted to accomplish this, the next step was to figure out if his administration was competent enough to pull it off. And this is the question I'm curious about: in general, how competent has the Bush administration been? In other words, if you accept his policy goals as worthy (just close your eyes and pretend, OK?), how good has he been at achieving them?

So I mentally went through some of his major policy initiatives:

  • Economic policy: I have no idea what he thinks he's doing here. I really don't. So score this as a major vote for incompetence, 0 points out of 10.

  • Education: given his policy goals, I'd say NCLB accomplished them reasonably well. Let's score it as 6 points out of 10.

  • Stem cells: again, given what he wanted to accomplish, he straddled pretty well on this. 6 out of 10.

  • Afghanistan: there are lots of problems here, but the initial war went well and it's not a complete disaster in any case. Let's say 4 out of 10.

  • Homeland Security Department: he fought it for a long time, but once he decided to get behind it he got what he wanted. 7 out of 10.

And since the Iraq war there have been a few others:

  • Partial birth abortion: good execution here. 9 out of 10.

  • Medicare: given the political realities, I think Bush got a lot of what he wanted out of this bill. Let's score it 5 out of 10.

  • Energy: this is a disaster even viewed from a conservative perspective, I think. Score it 0 out of 10.

So that's about 37 out of 80, or 46%, which is probably a pretty average score for a president. (Remember, this is based on his policy goals, not mine or yours. Based on my policy preferences, he'd score less than 10%.)

So there you have it. My take on Bush is that he's fair to middling at accomplishing the stuff he wants to accomplish, and unlike the economy, where he really doesn't need to worry about long-term disaster, he does need to worry about short-term disaster in Iraq. So given that he really would like to see Iraq turn out well, why did he allow the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith gang to work out a plan that was so obviously divorced from real world considerations? And why did the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith gang believe this stuff in the first place?

There are plenty of cheap answers to this question, but few satisfying ones. It's a real mystery.

Kevin Drum 5:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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