Bush Did It

What a difference an election makes.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

President Bush was ridiculed today by critics of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility when he suggested that his administration no longer was incarcerating “unlawful combatants,” but was instead in the process of renaming them as mere “detainees.” The president also promised to close Guantanamo “within the year,” and added that he had assigned a “special task force” to look into the matter.

“Orwellian,” the New York Times fumed in an editorial entitled “Just Close It!”: “If the President’s Ministry of Truth thinks that his metamorphosing words change reality, then it is going to be a long four years. This latest Doublespeak comes on top of the President’s ignoring his past assertions that ‘signing statements are unacceptable’ and continuing the policy unchanged from the Clinton administration.” The Los Angeles Times joined in, adding, “Remember that Bush promise about posting pending legislation on his administration’s website before signing it into law? Well, somehow several days’ notice has evaporated into 24 hours, and now zilch.”

Bush likewise ignored criticism that on the Patriot Act, FISA, and extraordinary rendition his current public positions were at odds with those that he ran on during the campaign. The Washington Post noted, “Here we go again with Karl Rove’s daily machinations — it is the same old flip-flopping we saw last summer before the election, when an opportunistic Bush reversed himself on NAFTA, public campaign financing, Iraq, the surge, Iran, offshore oil, nuclear power, coal plants, capital punishment, gun control, and abortion. One would think the dignity of the office might nudge Mr. Bush away from his perpetual campaign trimming. But then we have a President who seems glued to his Teleprompter and the scripted message feeding in from the right-wing attack machine.”

The Bush administration was further embarrassed when it boasted that the fundamentals of the economy were “sound” — although in its prior requests for bailout funds just a few weeks ago, it had ridiculed skeptics who countered that the economy’s fundamentals were, in fact, “strong.” Meanwhile, columnist Frank Rich complained that “In times of economic crisis here we go again with greedy and failed AIG execs — buddies of Bush’s clueless Wall Street–retread treasury secretary — using federal money to pay themselves bonuses for their rampant failure. But what do you expect from revolving-door administration officials in bed with the very corporations they used to work for? Get used to more $100-a-pound beef at the ‘let them eat cake’ White House parties, lorded over by this AIG surrogate who took more than $100,000 in their money for who knows what? Maybe Speaker Hastert can let those GM execs on federal welfare piggy-back on his private jet next time they come to Washington to beg for more of our money. These people have no shame.”

President Bush had warned the American people that the present recession could last “for years,” and that it was analogous to the Great Depression. Yet today, after passage of his new stimulus bill, his team suddenly reversed course, reassuring the nation that we might see an end of the recession by year’s end. Then Bush himself berated the American people, charging that they had become too pessimistic about the economy. Veteran journalist Bill Moyers sniffed, “These right-wing mythographers seem just to make this stuff up as they go along.”

When critics pointed out that the president had once promised an end to earmarks, and yet had signed more than 8,000 into law, he countered by promising not to do it again in 2010. Yet more trouble ensued when Bush increased the budget’s red ink from $500 billion to $1.7 trillion — after promising a new age of fiscal sobriety. “We inherited this recession from the Clinton administration,” Bush countered, “and if we’re going to offer real change, there is going to be some pain in order to get things right again. You have to borrow and spend to save and cut — anyone knows that.”

Newsweek magazine offered a dry assessment of the by-now tiresome “Clinton did it” excuse: “At least students who lose term papers can claim the dog ate them; but this administration isn’t even that clever. For them, it is ‘Clinton did it’ — yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Expect for the next four years to hear daily the tired refrain of Monica, serial appeasement of terrorists, Whitewater, Travelgate, Paula Jones, and the entire cargo of impeachment — anything other than Afghanistan, climbing unemployment, a crashing stock market, and soaring deficits.”

Meanwhile, another Bush appointee withdrew his name from Cabinet consideration. An administration spokesman denied a “pattern of sleaze” and allegations of a “culture of corruption,” brought about by the facts that Bush’s treasury secretary had failed to pay sizable back federal taxes, that his labor secretary’s husband had tax liens on their property, that his nominee for secretary of health and human services had withdrawn his name after admitting he had failed to pay thousands of dollars in income taxes for free corporate limousine service, and that his nominee for commerce secretary likewise bowed out pending the results of an FBI investigation into supposed “pay-to-play” favoritism. Late-night talk-show host David Letterman summed it up best: “If Bush nominates enough of his wayward tax-dodging cronies to the Cabinet, we might pay off the deficit yet.”

When reminded by journalists that there were even more Bush appointees who either had withdrawn from consideration or were going to face tough hearings on past ethical violations, a defiant President Bush countered that he had established the “highest standards for public service in presidential history.” Meanwhile, it was disclosed that ten corporate lobbyists had been appointed to administration posts, and that his Cabinet performance overseer herself had bowed out of Senate confirmation hearings because of unpaid tax bills.

An “exhausted” and “overwhelmed” Bush was reportedly “troubled” on hearing that his newly appointed attorney general had lambasted his fellow Americans as “cowards” for not addressing more forthrightly matters of reverse discrimination. Then controversy ensued when the Bush energy czar ridiculed environmentalists for stopping Western water projects, predicting that without more dams and canals, “California farms will dry up and blow away soon.” Controversy did not end there, however, as Bush’s head of veterans affairs suggested that veterans should start to “privatize” — i.e., to use their own private health insurance whenever they could, inasmuch as it would soon be taxed as normal income anyway. “Are these people nuts — or what?” fumed columnist David Brooks, who collated some of the more amazing assertions of newly appointed Bush officials, before concluding, “I’m really disappointed. I expected a lot better.”

On matters of tax policy, the Bush administration fended off criticism that its change in the federal-income-tax code was not, as once promised, merely a small adjustment. Independent analysts reminded treasury officials that, in fact, Bush was offering radical new legislation, redefining tax policy on charitable deductions, private-healthcare contributions, and income caps on payroll deductions. “Well,” the president fumed, “we have to go after the 50 percent who pay no taxes and stay home in front of their TVs watching the Super Bowl and swigging beer.”

In the face of such sustained criticism, it was leaked that once more Karl Rove, along with some former Reagan officials and prominent conservative bloggers, had orchestrated a campaign from the West Wing to go after Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and other prominent Bush critics in a strategy supposedly called “The New Face of the Democratic Party.” Videotape of a recent interview belied Rove’s repeated denial that he had boasted of “never wasting a good crisis.” That brought a rebuke from veteran political observer David Gergen: “Here we are in Depression-like times, and all the Bushies can think of is how to use the ensuing fear to ram a right-wing social and economic agenda down the terrified throats of the American people. Shame on them!”

“Should we laugh or cry over this inept Texas bunch?” wrote the New York Times’s Bob Herbert. “Let me get this straight: The British prime minister comes to Washington. Bush and his Texas yahoos haven’t got a clue about protocol. They snub him at the airport, humiliate him while at the White House — and give him some cheap DVDs as a going-away present. So much for Texas hospitality!”

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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