Obama continues to trash Bush in words–but his actions speak louder.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Last July I wrote a column entitled “Barack W. Bush” outlining how candidate Barack Obama was strangely emulating Bush policies — even as he was trashing the president.
Nearly a year later, President Obama has continued that schizophrenia, criticizing Bush while keeping in place Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols. The result of this Bush Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is that, thanks to Obama, history will soon begin reassessing George W. Bush’s presidency in a more positive light.
Why? Because the more Obama feels compelled to trash Bush, the more he draws attention to the fact that he is copying — or in some cases falling short of — his predecessor. He seems to wish to frame his presidency in terms of the Bush years, even though such constant evocation is serving his predecessor more than it is serving Obama himself.
For eight years conservatives whined — and Democrats railed — at the Bush deficits. In the aggregate over eight years they exceeded $2 trillion. The administration’s excuses — the 2000 recession; 9/11; two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq; Katrina; and two massive new programs, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Prescription Drug — fell on deaf ears.
Between 2001 and 2008 we still spoke of annual budget shortfalls in billions of dollars. But an early effect of the Obama administration is that it has already made the Bush administration’s reckless spending seem almost incidental. In the first 100 days of this government we have learned to speak of yearly red ink in terms of Obama’s trillions, not Bush’s mere billions. Indeed, compared to Obama, Bush looks like a fiscal conservative.
Another complaint was the so-called culture of corruption in the Republican Congress — and the inability, or unwillingness, of the Bush administration to address party impropriety. Jack Abramoff, Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, and Mark Foley were each involved in some sort of fiscal or moral turpitude that — according to critics — was never convincingly condemned by the Bush administration.
But compared to some of the present Democratic headline-makers, those were relatively small potatoes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slurred the CIA and accused it of habitually lying to Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel has not paid his income taxes fully, and has improperly used his influence to lobby corporations for donations; he has also violated rent-stabilization laws in New York. Sen. Chris Dodd has received discounts and gifts from shady corporate insiders in clear quid-pro-quo influence peddling. Rep. Barney Frank got campaign money from Fannie Mae before it imploded, despite the fact he was charged with regulating the quasi-governmental agency — which at one time hired his boyfriend as a top executive. Former Rep. William Jefferson, an outright crook, is about to go on trial in federal court.
As for other prominent Democrats, the sins of Blago and Eliot Spitzer bordered on buffoonery. A series of Obama cabinet nominations — Daschle, Geithner, Richardson, Solis — were marred by admissions of tax evasion and the suspicion of scandal. In other words, should either the Democratic leadership or President Obama now rail about a “Culture of Corruption” — and neither unfortunately has — the public would naturally assume a reference to Democratic misdeeds.
For the last eight years, a sort of parlor game has been played listing the various ways the Bush anti-terror policies supposedly destroyed the Constitution. Liberal opponents — prominent among them Sen. Barack Obama — railed against elements of the Patriot Act, military tribunals, rendition, wiretaps, email intercepts, and Predator drone attacks. These supposedly unnecessary measures, plus Bush’s policies in postwar Iraq, were said to be proof, on Bush’s part, of either paranoia or blatantly partisan efforts to scare us into supporting his unconstitutional agenda.
Now, thanks to President Obama, the verdict is in: All of the Bush protocols turned out to reflect a bipartisan national consensus that has kept us safe from another 9/11-style attack.
How do we know that?
Because President Obama — despite earlier opposition and current name changes and nuancing — has kept intact the entire Bush anti-terrorism program. Apparently President Obama has kept these protocols because he suspects that they help to explain why his first few months in office have been free of successful terrorist attacks — witness the foiled plot earlier this month to murder Jews in New York City and shoot down military planes in upstate New York.
There are only two exceptions to Obama’s new Bushism. Both are revealing. The president says he wishes to shut down Guantanamo in a year, after careful study. But so far no one has come up with an alternative plan for dealing with out-of-uniform terrorists caught on the battlefield plotting harm to the United States. That’s why Obama himself did not close the facility immediately upon entering office, and why the Democratic Congress has just cut off funding to close it. So we are left with the weird paradox that Obama hit hard against his predecessor for opening Guantanamo, while members of his own party are doing their best to keep it open.
Obama says he opposes waterboarding and calls it torture. Many of us tend to agree. But despite the partisan rhetoric of endemic cruelty, we now learn that the tactic was used on only three extraordinarily bad detainees.
Furthermore, the administration that disclosed the once-classified technique to the public now refuses to elaborate on whether valuable information that saved lives emerged from such coerced interrogations.
Meanwhile, liberal congressional icons like Jay Rockefeller and Nancy Pelosi are on record as being briefed about the technique — and, by their apparent silence as overseers, de facto approving it. Senator Schumer, remember, all but said that we must not rule out the resort to torture in the case of terrorist suspects.
Mini-histories have already been written blasting Bush for unprecedented deficits, for being in bed with a sometimes corrupt Republican Congress, and for weakening our civil liberties. Now the historians will have to begin over again and see Bush as a mere prelude to a far more profligate, and ethically suspect, administration.
More important, President Bush bequeathed to President Obama a successful anti-terrorism template that the latter has embraced and believes will keep the nation safe for another eight years. And, oddly, we are the more certain that is what he believes, the more a now obsessive-compulsive President Obama attacks none other than former President Bush.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson