Sunday, January 18, 2009

White House change of power: the old and the new

By Rick Morris

Assessing the Bush years: It’s true that this country hasn’t been hit on its own soil since 9/11 and that fact doesn’t deserve to be brushed aside lightly. Plus, many judges and two Supreme Court justices with an appreciation for innocent human life, the traditional definition of marriage and respect for private property rights have been appointed. George Bush did manage to strengthen key relations in Asia, perhaps most importantly with India. In his second term, when he marginalized some of the neocon creeps around him, he did manage to rebuild some international alliances. Additionally, the fact that some resistance was shown to global warming fanatics has allowed real science to catch up in the form of new questions to be asked, such as whether we’re actually at the dawn of a new Ice Age.

And … the list of pluses seems to end there. Weighed against the wreckage of a war in Iraq that was disastrously waged until the last two years (and turned out to be questionable altogether in retrospect), a worsening situation in Afghanistan, the remnants of a reputation for competence last seen floating away with the stormwater of Hurricane Katrina, the biggest federal spending binge in history with the bills being passed to our children and grandchildren, propaganda victories for our enemies from Abu Ghraib (I’m not listing Gitmo here out of fairness since there have been no atrocities performed there), ineptitude in the face of a gathering anti-American world alliance between bad actors like Russia, Venezuela and Iran, the sellout of poor children by further empowering the Department of Education bureaucrats at the expense of fighting for school vouchers, the inflation of bubbles on his watch that exploded to cause the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression and a public communications department so poor that Jimmy Carter laughs at it, those pluses aren’t nearly sufficient to earn “redemption in the eyes of history.”

The final point might be the most damning of them all. It’s sobering to consider that Carter left office at about twice the approval rate of Bush; that’s how permanently down on the 43rd president that this public is and probably always will be. Aside from Tony Snow’s tenure at the podium, this White House had the worst-managed public message machine of the modern age. When even your successes aren’t able to be celebrated in some measure by the public, you’re in deep trouble. In some ways, the public’s wholesale discrediting of all things Bush hurts the country worse in terms of what he got right – because the lesson people took away from his tenure is that we need to change everything he ever did in all areas.

Bush’s remaining defenders, from his permanent shoeshine boy Sean Hannity to the eternal shill Mike Gallagher, blame his woes on the media. You’ll never hear any of these in-the-tank bozos tell you that Bush had a gazillion more weapons at his disposal in the New Media and talk radio than Ronald Reagan ever did and he did nothing with them. Reagan persevered past a hostile media and got his message across to the American people. Winners win, losers whine. In this way, Bush must accept responsibility for creating Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and President Obama – because none of them could have attained their victories without his “pull the goalie from the net” style of political defense. His “new tone in Washington” garbage early on set the stage for his naïve unilateral personal disarmament in the face of a left-wing political/media alliance determined to torpedo his presidency. We’re supposed to sympathize with him because of that?

Now, fortunately, Obama seems smarter than most of the Democrat leaders in Congress put together. But inevitably, he will join up with them to implement some policies in the next few years that will have bad outcomes – whether they be the stripping of secret ballots for union organizing, the appointment of “culture of death” judges and justices or overly pacifist impulses in foreign policy that embolden our enemies and cause innocent blood to ultimately be shed. Whatever harm they cause together, some of the blame will have to accrue to Bush for making their rise possible by bizarrely choosing to transform himself into our nation’s foremost political piñata.

The start of the Obama era: The always on-point Tigerhawk makes the point that all Americans, even those like me on the right, should be hoping that Obama is successful I his presidency – or at least successful enough not to do permanent harm to the country. Now, this doesn’t mean unprincipled support of all policies, even ruinous ones or endorsing the kind of ACLU crazies Barack Obama is likely to put on the bench. But it does mean appreciating when his successes genuinely benefit the country and not being in an ineffective permanent attack mode.

Let’s examine that last point for a moment. If Bush’s biggest crime was political ineptitude, then the GOP should be firmly focused on erasing that germ from its DNA pronto. The tin ear that the Republican Party has always had (save for the sainted eight years o’Reagan) grew to true elephantine (pardon the pun) proportions during Bush’s two terms. Attacking Obama non-stop, from Day One, with any issue or pseudo-issue at hand, at a time when the public generally wants him to succeed, is a recipe for permanent marginalization. The notion of picking one’s spots has never been more important, especially since Obama has several times the credibility with the public as the dopes who lead the Republicans in Congress.

This very relevant fact needs to be kept in mind in terms of the defining battle of Obama’s early administration – the proposed federal stimulus package. The Republicans will no doubt deploy many arguments against it in the coming months, but the least effective by far will be the one that states that our roads and bridges aren’t in crisis. They are. Now, I’m a bigger fiscal libertarian than most people I know personally, but denying the obvious is not a means for a political party to avoid oblivion. If GOP leaders intend to accomplish anything beyond asinine posturing, they should challenge Obama to work with them to find offsets in the federal budget to make up for the short-term increases in infrastructure spending.

An approach like the one I’m advocating might seem strange inasmuch as I am a vocal opponent of all things considered moderate. I consider moderation an unprincipled, self-congratulatory path which treats all differences as ones to be split equally regardless of specific circumstances. So the notion of urging the GOP to work with Obama where it can do so might seem contradictory – but it’s not.

Realistically, Obama has the votes to get almost anything done that he can. With the Northeast RINO sellouts in the Senate, the notion of needing 60 Democrat votes to break filibusters is hilarious, because the Republicans won’t be able to sustain even one successfully. If he wants to govern hard left, he can – but he’s too smart for that. He used the left to get elected, but has wisely been backing away from it in a number of areas, not least of which the outstanding (for a Democrat) Cabinet that he has assembled.

If Republicans try to use their feeble power to try to stop Obama on everything 24/7, they’ll be crushed, only make him more popular in the short and medium term, and necessitate a move left for the country that will devastate us in the long term – after he’s been reelected by crusading against “obstructionist Republicans signing from the George W. Bush hymnal.” The GOP has a great chance in the next couple of years to work with Obama on implementing some real reforms and opposing him on principle in the areas where they must – thereby setting up lines of distinction to run on in 2012.

It is imperative that Republicans make a real effort to investigate what can be accomplished in conjunction with Obama, because his challenge to reexamine all assumptions can be can be called on him with great success if indeed it is a bluff. Think about it: which political party is the one wedded to top-down decision-making in D.C., control by rotted-out interest groups like Big Labor and federal spending as a form of religion? It is the Democrats who are the party of status quo in terms of the federal direction, which is an ever-expanding Big Government. By taking Obama at his word to take a fresh look at the necessity of every function of government, the Republicans will either help radically transform this country for the better or it will expose empty words by the chief executive and begin the process of his political downfall. Win-win.

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