So I'm reading Peggy Noonan this morning, and Good Lord -- it's as if someone corrected Mr. Magoo's eyeglass prescription:
...We all like a president who says "The buck stops here." Mr. Bush never ducks the buck. But he puts severe limits on the number and kind of people who can hand it to him. He picks them, receives their passionate and by definition limited recommendations, makes his decision, and sticks. All very Trumanesque, except Truman could tolerate argument and dissent....
Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he'd offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.
There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, "Those people aren't drinking the Kool-Aid, they're sucking it from a spigot!"
Wait, there's more:
It's as if Bush doesn't understand the concept of danger. He understands sin, redemption, practicalities (every man has to make his living, life is competition, etc.). But danger? Does he understand how dangerous life is? It's not cowardly to know this, and factor it in. It is in fact strange not to.
... Lately I think the president could have used a time in his life when his father couldn't pay the rent. Such experiences tend to leave you unwilling to count on good luck coming, or staying.
Hey, welcome aboard on that last point, Peggy. Sorry you missed it when we first brought it up, oh, around December 1999.
Ah, but here's a line I genuinely like:
... The president has taken, those around him say, great comfort in biographies of previous presidents.... This is all very moving, but: Message to all biography-reading presidents, past present and future: Just because they call you a jackass doesn't mean you're Lincoln.
I know, I know: She's upset not because he's failing but because he seems to be failing. She's upset not because the war is a disaster and the next war will be even worse, but because he's spending too much money on Grandma's blood-pressure medicine. Still, for now I think Bush has really, really lost Noonan.
She writes today:
George W. Bush ... does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through....
If this White House is all George Bush, nothing changes or shifts, nothing hits refresh unless he does. He is a tough and stubborn man, a brave one too, and he leads with his heart....
The odd thing is sometimes the bravest thing is to question yourself, question the wisdom around you, reach out, tolerate a hellacious argument, or series of arguments.... This isn't weak--it's humble. It's not breaking, it's bending, tacking, steadying yourself in a wind.
Recall what she wrote just after the 2004 election:
About a year ago I was visiting West Point, and I was talking to a big officer, a general or colonel. But he had the medals and ribbons and the stature, and he asked me what I thought of President Bush. I tried to explain what most impressed me about Mr. Bush, and I kept falling back on words like "courage" and "guts." I wasn't capturing the special quality Mr. Bush has of making a tough decision and then staying with it if he thinks it's right and paying the price even when the price is high and--
I stopped speaking for a moment. There was silence. And then the general said, "You mean he's got two of 'em." And I laughed and said yes, that's exactly what I mean.
You know, in my single days I was, occasionally, the "nice guy" who listened to the romantic woes of women. I'm surprised and pleased at what Noonan's writing today, but it won't last. They always go back to the bad boys. He'll drop a few bunker-buster nukes on Natanz and it will be as if James Dean had pulled up in front of her house on a Harley. But I'll enjoy this while it lasts.