Bush Through the Obama Prism

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

I think Obama may do more for George Bush’s reputation than anyone thinks.

I’ve collated the dozens of articles from liberal thinkers that explain why so far Obama — the candidate of hope and change, and cleaning out the entrenched status quo that so warps our D.C. politics and ensures stasis in our policies — has surrounded himself either with Clintonites, outright Bush people or those who worked closely with them, and centrists of ambiguous politics. The explanations are quite creative and run the gamut:

1) Whom else might a Democrat pick, given that the Carterites are now 28 years out of office, and team Clinton the only experienced circle of liberals still around (and given that Democrats have only been in the executive branch for 8 out of the last 28 years)?

2) This is part of Obama’s brilliant grand strategy. Just wait and see how Machiavellian it works out: by coopting power-hungry centrist pros to enact HIS “progressive” policies, he can advance a leftist agenda much more effectively and fend off gratuitous attacks from the right-wing attack machine.

3) Review what Obama actually promised and you will learn he actually ran a centrist campaign; the problem is that too many liberals simply projected their own agendas on him, and saw what they wished rather than what was there.

4) These are not centrists at all. Gates was at heart a sort of anti-Bush maverick. Hillary and others are liberals that used to be the bane of right-wingers. The new economic team wants to assume government control of essential industries.

5) This is just a small sampling of appointments; wait until you see the U.N. rep, NEA, NEH, key figures at State and Justice. By picking bumper-sticker centrists at the figuratively top spots, he can appoint real progressives under the radar at the bread and butter posts where real policies happen.

Note that the most obvious and embarrassing explanation is taboo and blasphemous: That Obama is a masterful politician who never has had any real ideology or persona other than his own diversity story and history, youth, and charisma that together allow him to be whatever is politically expedient at the time.

That is, there is a pattern here: public campaign financing, FISA, NAFTA, drilling, nuclear power, coal, guns, capital punishment, abortion, Iran, Iraq, the surge, etc. all were repackaged as the primary and general elections evolved. A community organizing past that once welcomed in a Wright, Pfleger, Ayers, Khalidi, became inoperative lest he meet a McGovern-like fate.

And rather than assess carefully the Bush policies, it made better sense to lump them altogether under the general rubric that Bush shredded the Constitution and, as a unilateral preemptivist, ruined the American brand over seas (while knowing privately that when Obama himself assumed office he would leave alone the homeland-security measures, Patriot Act, FISA, etc. to ensure the continuance of the 7-year hiatus from a major attack, and follow Bush/Petraeus in getting out of Iraq to preserve the unexpected victory).

Likewise, privately Obama knew the meltdown was not Bush’s fault per se but a bipartisan miasma a decade in the making, fueled by Wall Street greed, wrongheaded utopian politics, and corruption at Freddie and Fannie — and thus the Bush response was largely to be followed (and this apparently may even extend to not tampering immediately with the existing tax rates.)

The result of all this?

I think we are slowly (and things of course could change) beginning in retrospect to look back at the outline of one of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill’s 1992 formula: a young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer.

Second, we will come, through the Obama prism, to see that Bush’s sins were largely the absence of rhetorical skills, unfortunate shoot ’em braggadocio in 2003-4, the federal response to Katrina, and a certain administration haughtiness about the problems in Iraq between 2002-6, but not most of his policies that included prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, AIDs relief in Africa, the removal of two odious regimes, and consensual governments in their places, a framework at home to stop 9/11-type terrorism, and good working partnerships with key allies abroad such as Britain, Germany, France, Italy, India, et al., and a pragmatism in handling rivals like Russia and China.

In short, given all that, Obama’s victory (predicated on painting Bush as a Hoover/Nixon redux), more so even than perhaps a John McCain’s, may do more for Bush’s reputation that anyone ever imagined. And the Mumbai mess (over there, not here) will only emphasize all this, as an array of old 9/11-era experts who used to warn us about radical Islam, then, in the subsequent respite at home, screamed that Bush fabricated a war against terror against bogeymen, and now in their third manifestation are paraded once more out to warn us about? — why, yes, radical Islam!

©2008 Victor Davis Hanson

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