Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

What if any liberal criticism of George W. Bush, perhaps one that you believed in at the time, now in retrospect seems to have been unfair or a cheep shot? Anything?

23 comments:

  1. Buehler? Buehler?

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  2. I'm having a hard time thinking of anything unfair or cheap. By and large, Bush earned all his liberal criticism many times over. The best I can come up with is that the GOP has gone so far off the deep end since 2008 that Bush seems almost moderate in hindsight from 3 years later.

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  3. Unfortunate -- that he was stupid. I think this is a central problem for liberals who are unhappy. They believed that the problem was Bush's stupidity. Once you rid yourself of this challenge all can be fixed. This is an adolescent fantasy of course. But a combination of vilification and the illusion that a bit more smarts would fix everything did enormous damage to the progressive cause.

    If anything he was very smart politically and the situation we are faced with now, which is a dream come true for the most conservative elements in our country, a situation they've dreamed about since the New Deal, is in lots of ways a result of many of the choices Bush made (whether or not intentional).

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  4. I'd have to say the thing that made me most embarrassed to be a liberal critic of Bush was the narishkeit surrounding Hugo Chavez's speech at the UN, calling him the devil and on and on. I wasn't a fan but a lot of my co-critics seemed to be of a different mind.

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  5. To answer this question thoroughly would probably require more research than I'm willing to do, but two things jump to mind:

    1. I think much of the liberal criticism of the Medicare Modernization Act (which established the Medicare prescription drug benefit) was overblown. While I think the bill's deliberate decision not to take advantage of Medicare's monopsony power to set prices was legitimately a mistake, I think the Part D benefit has functioned more smoothly than many liberal critics at the time anticipated. I also think partisan concerns led many Democrats to devalue what they otherwise would have treated as a liberal victory - a major expansion of the welfare state.

    2. I think the liberal reaction to the potential "nuclear option" in reference to judicial nominations looks foolish and short-sighted in retrospect. I think the world would be a better place if filibusters had been eliminated, not just for judicial nominations, but for all executive branch nominations. (Not sure if this was on the table, but it seems possible it could have been part of a deal.)

    That said, I think the most damning criticisms of the Bush administration remain valid - the irresponsibility of the tax cuts, the abandonment of the rule of law in the war on terror, mismanagement during Hurricane Katrina, a needlessly antagonistic foreign policy, and above all the tragic stupidity of the Iraq War.

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  6. A common 2004 campaign talking point was that President Bush didn't excuse himself from the schoolchildren he was reading to fast enough... I always thought that argument was pretty stupid.

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  7. I'd say they mainly relate to foreign policy in the second term. The Iraq surge now seems to have been a better policy option than beginning withdrawal in late 2006. There was an overrating of how much we could achieve simply by talking to Iran and North Korea. Criticism that Bush hurt our relationship with Pakistan by backing Musharraf too long now seems silly. I seem to recall a lot of insistence the Admin was lying to say that Iran was supporting attacks on US troops in Iraq, but Wikileaks shows that belief was sincerely held at least.

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  8. Mostly the conspiracy theories. I'm not even talking about the Truthers, but the idea that he stole the 2004 election through voting machine manipulation or that he was secretly holding Osama bin Laden to bring him out at a politically advantageous time. Things like that.

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  9. 1. Bush telling people to "go shopping" after 9/11. What he actually said was more along the lines of "go about your business", and I think people really did need to be told to return to their normal lives, given the whole atmosphere of fear.
    2. Back in 2004 I annoyed some other liberals by giving Bush credit for tamping down anti-Muslim prejudice right after 9/11. Their response: "aren't all the wars and Guantanamo anti-Muslim enough"? They're right, of course. Still, in light of the open bigotry that prevails now in the GOP Bush looks good for not selling the War on Terror as a War on (all) Islam, and not resorting to demagogic attacks on domestic Muslims.

    In general some of the criticisms of Bush's *immediate* post-9/11 response didn't ring true with me, or at least with my feelings at the time. Especially since a lot of people who claim to have been against Bush "all along" have to be lying, given Bush's 90+ approval ratings in September-October 2001. Lots of liberals got caught up in the post-9/11 wave of patriotism (at least before Iraq), few like to admit it now.

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  10. By far, the most unfair central criticism of Bush was that he was an idiot. This became practically a mantra among liberals, though, rather like the conservative criticisms of Obama's "inexperience," I think it had the effect of an empty talking point that the critics didn't genuinely believe.

    I myself never believed Bush was literally stupid, though I did compare him to Chauncey Gardiner, in the sense that I believed he was a figurehead whose simplicity was mistaken for profundity. I've done some rethinking of the figurehead criticism; after he left office, stuff came out about him suggesting he was more in the driver's seat than he let out.

    In any case, I truly believe the perception of him as stupid was partly an effect of his own deliberate image-making. He adopted a distinctly down-home, anti-intellectual aura which I suspect was partly a reaction to his defeat in a 1978 Congressional race in which his opponent depicted him as out of touch with rural Texans. It fit the times, as the conservative movement has grown increasingly anti-intellectual over the past several decades.

    I still strongly think he's one of the worst presidents in history. You can call me extreme, and maybe decades from now, after the dust has long settled, history will be kinder to him. But no matter how I look at it, I can't get past the astounding fact that he came to office during a time of peace and prosperity and left office in the midst of two hapless wars one of which he started for no good reason, and the worst economy since the Great Depression. It's like you took the economic faults of Hoover and combined them with the foreign policy faults of LBJ.

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  11. I would say Bush has gotten too much grief for Katrina. He didn't handle it well, but it was handled poorly on many levels, not just by him and not just at the federal level.

    I hold Bush responsible for defunding the government, but the Great Recession has deeper roots than that. I tend to see it as the final consequence of the Reagan era of deregulation, and I would include the Clinton administration as part of that era, especially regarding the banks. When the crash came, Bush responded actively, doing things (TARP, in particular)that today's Republicans like to pretend Obama did. These actions probably could have been designed better (the same with Obama's stimulus), but it was an emergency and in emergencies things are done sloppily.

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  12. I never bought into some some of the pop psychology of the time which attributed Bush's aspirations to become president and invade Iraq as some sort of Daddy complex. Treating these things as personal for him I think detracts from the truth that his presidency's foreign policy was basically an experiment in neo-conservatism and his father probably didn't even agree with his foreign policy that much.

    And in retrospect, I no longer believe that Bush himself was the kind of Republican that wants to institute a christian caliphate in America. This is mostly because I look at who's running for the Republican nomination now and realize that Bush actually probably protected some of our freedoms that these guys would have liked to take.

    Everything else though still seems fair, and @ David, I don't think he was "stupid" but I believe more than ever that he was monumentally inept for the job and unwise in his choices.

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  13. In hindsight I think the liberal criticisms of Bush engaging in elaborate and nefarious plots behind every corner where overblown. I think on the whole the Bush white house was more a story of self-styled masters of the political universe blundering through complicated problems, and screwing everything up than so grand conspiracy. It seems weird now, but these guys really did think sending a bunch of former Heritage Foundation interns to Iraq would solve that country’s innumerable problems at the drop of a hat. Or that they key to relating to a billion Muslims was to make Karen Hughes—Bush’s chief message guru of “compassionate conservative” and “reformed with results” fame—a sort of ambassador at large to the Middle East. We don’t need to “solve problems” or “change policy”, heavens no! Just get some good sound bites, photo ops and alliteration themed sound bites out there! Bush was obviously gifted with tremendous political skill but was far more the oblivious aging ex-frat boy his earlier political opponents had always contended him to be that some sort of sinister mastermind out to do all sorts of terrible things.

    @Kylopod
    Bush as Chauncey Gardiner, that’s great!

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  14. I suppose I could point to marginal things like "Bush doesn't care about black people", or some of the other things already cited upthread. But on balance, surely Bush was criticized insufficiently, not excessively, during his presidency.

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  15. His immigration policy; treated as most policies his administration put forward, yet rejected by congress.

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  16. (Note: Just because today's Republican politicians are dumber, that doesn't mean Bush wasn't dumb.)

    The only Bush criticism I remember thinking was outrageous was when the Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed of Bush while on tour overseas. The whole "leave your politics at the water's edge" idea, which held at the time.

    But I became okay with it when president Bush attacked candidate Obama from the floor of the Knesset. So no, I don't think any liberal* criticism of Bush was particularly unfair.


    * - I'm not taking responsibility for the entire left-wing fringe here, just mainstream liberal criticisms.

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  17. The problem I'm having is separating out hindsight from memory. In my memory, it seems like all my judgments were spot-on, but that's very likely because my memory of my judgments is, in fact, my hindsight.

    However, the one that sticks out at me is the "Bush as Cheney puppet" theme. It seems like what we've learned in the last 5 years (I'm starting with the pieces of info we started to glean around 2006) is that Cheney was a fantastically powerful VP, but that Bush really did employ a more pyramidal structure to how he ran things, and Cheney was just one of the elite at the top of that pyramid, but Bush had his own voice and power there, too.

    I'm not sure that we had *Bush* wrong as much as we had the *Bush Administration* wrong.

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  18. I think it's grossly unfair to blame Bush for using dirty tricks to steamroll everything he wanted, dictator style, through Congress. Lots of Democrats sincerely wanted to make deals with him, and deals they made. Tax cuts, Medicare D, No Child Left Behind, war, torture, spying, hundreds of conservative judges and the Dept of Homeland Security all enjoyed substantial Democratic support.

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  19. Here's another one: blaming W. for stealing the 2000 election was unfair. On the narrow issue of the Florida recount, Gore should've demanded a full recount of every ballot instead of trying to cherry pick.

    Forget about the recount. How did Gore manage to run for President without embracing the highly popular, successful President Clinton, who he'd served well during eight years of relative peace, prosperity and budget surpluses? It was astonishing.

    But that's a bit like blaming the Super Bowl loss on that one blown referee call, while conveniently overlooking every other incomplete pass, penalty, interception, fumble, missed tackle and 2 yard running play that fooled nobody.

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  20. I do recall hearing - and, I'll admit, more than half believing - that "of course we will find WMD in Iraq. If there aren't any there - some CIA spooks will put them there so they can be "found" by our troops."

    That probably fits more in the "Bush Administration" category - but in any case seems to go beyond what anyone in the administration ever did.

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  21. A question in return, JB: What do you hope to learn, from a political science perspective, by asking a question such as this?

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  22. The criticism he received on 9/11 for not returning immediately to Washington was unfair. Some liberals called him a coward for flying around the country on Air Force One instead of heading straight back to the White House.

    It would have been insane, however, for the Secret Service to bring him back to Washington in those crazy hours following the attack. I say now as I said then, there was too much uncertainty to risk the safety of the president when we didn't even know if the attacks were over. How could they have known the White House was safe?

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  23. I probably didn't give him enough credit for having earnest intentions wrt Iraq. I still consider them hopelessly muddied. First it was a matter of our own security, then it became primarily a matter of giving freedom to Iraqis, though they never backed off the security angle. This undercut any credibility they had in my eyes for why it was done, after which the political squeeze that was put on Dems in 2002 to vote for it or be branded either a danger to our security or else a protector of murderous dictators convinced me that it was done purely for strengthening Bush's domestic political position as a popular wartime leader. And I still do think that is ultimately the main reason that it was undertaken. But in retrospect I do give Bush credit for at least at various point earnestly believing sometimes that the war was necessary for American security, and at others (sometimes at the same time) that it was a strong enough moral cause to justify putting hundreds of thousands (though not enough hundreds of thousands) of American 19-38 year-olds on the ground in what would become uncertain, then deadly, conditions for an undefined period of time.

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