Friday, May 09, 2014


So what did I learn from pundits this morning? I learned that it's just plain unfair to attack presidents -- particularly Republican presidents -- for unconscionable acts if those presidents really, really meant well in their heart of hearts. First, let's turn to Matt Bai, who's written a Yahoo News column titled "So George W. Bush Isn't a Monster, After All":
The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read "Days of Fire," the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush's presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned -- a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker's Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.
Bush "found his footing"? When?

Yes, I wince at Bush's judgment -- or, more precisely, at the consequences of his judgment. I wince at the thousands dead from his mismanaged wars, at the far greater number wounded, at the billions of dollars squandered, at the fact that the wars were put on a credit card to save his precious tax cuts, which I'm sure Bai believes were also kept in place because Bush cares. I wince at the lives driven off the rails to this day by a financial crash that happened while Bush chose to look the other way.

I don't give a goddamn that Bush cares. If you accept Bai's characterization of Bush -- that he was a decent guy who got in over his head, y'know, the way people do -- the point is that he's like a guy who sets up a storefront medical clinic in an underserved area even though he has no medical training and botches most of his procedures, often killing his patients or doing them some other form of permanent harm. Who the hell cares if someone like that is sincere? He's a menace.

And next we turn to Peggy Noonan, who tells us that Benghazi was much, much worse than Iran-contra, because Ronald Reagan meant well:
The Iran-Contra affair did not spring from low motives. There was no hope of partisan gain, it wasn't a political play.

All involved were trying -- sometimes stupidly, almost childishly -- to save lives, and perhaps establish a new opening with Iran. They had good reasons, but the actions were bad, and everyone involved paid a price.

Compare that with how the Obama White House has handled Benghazi. It's all been spin, close ranks, point fingers, obfuscate, withhold documents, accuse your accusers of base motives....
Right. No one involved in Iran-contra ever accused any accuser of base motives (cough OLIVER NORTH cough).

Bai and Noonan are telling us that the road to the Bush and Reagan legacies is paved with good intentions. We know where that road ultimately leads.

(Bai via Eric Boehlert.)


Lance Mannion said...

Days of Fire is worth reading but not as a definitive history of Bush's presidency. It's an insider account told mainly through the eyes of people who have a good reason to put the best face on things they can because who wants to go down in history as working for the worst Presidency ever? Even so, there's nothing they can say that gets them or Bush off the hook. Good intentions don't uninvade Iraq or undrown New Orleans.

jabberwocky said...

Caring is the absolute minimum qualification for President.

Lance Mannion said...

Should note, Bai's reaction to the book is pretty close to my own. I'm writing my review now and have already said Bush comes across as much more sympathetic figure than I'd have expected. But like I said, he still did what he did and it's as Bai says at the top of his post "George W. Bush was a divisive and unsuccessful president. Economically, internationally, culturally — you name the category of leadership, and the results pretty much range from disappointment to disaster."

Victor said...

What the great Lance Mannion said!

Death tolls at US Embassies and Consulates:
-Reagan - 241 in ONE incident in Beirut. There was another major one later, killing 20+ and several Americans.
There were many, many other.

-Bush I - I'm too lazy to look up.

-Bush II - 60, in several different incidents.

-Obama - 4. FOUR!!!

Obama needs good "intentions" to lead to 14 more Benghazi's, to equal Dumbaya.

And Obama needs over 59 more, to equal Reagan's ONE Beirut terrorist attack.

Why don't the Democrats hold-up something like this, as a scorecard?

Yeah, yeah, I know - they can't play "politics."

Unsalted Sinner said...

Funny how they don't see any good intentions in Obama...

Kevin Hayden said...

I definitely gagged at Bai's characterization. Bush's father used Hill & Knowlton to drum up lies about babies tossed from incubators and to have a diplomat's daughter testify to BS in Congressional testimony.

Bush the younger sold multiple lies and half a million Iraqis died because of it. Not to mention the TRILLIONS that war cost.... because it's all those millions of lives that matter more.

Yoou nailed it, Steve. The book may be well-done but it's hardly convincing.Even Molly Ivins always said Dubya had a brain. But he clearly used it for evil despite what his apologists claim.

The New York Crank said...

"Bush "found his footing"? When?"

Aw c'mon, ask me a hard one. Bush found his footing after he went home to Texas. He was sitting in the bathtub one day looking straight ahead, and there it was – his footing! His footing was at the front of the tub, his feet resting upon it, was feet will do with footings.

He was so amazed and fascinated by what he saw he painted a picture of it. You can find it by rummaging around here:

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

'a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his [dreadful] vice president' ['made] some tragically bad decisions'. Bush 'is a flawed character' 'you wince at his judgment'.

How can these be part of a favorable assessment of Bush? Because Bai is engaged in a transparent piece of setting the bar low and displacing attention from what you might think was the absolutely central issue, viz. 'how good a president was Bush?' to 'was he the devil himself?' The charge is that Bush, who did not wake up one morning and find he was the president, but put himself forward as a candidate for the nation's highest elective office, was a disastrously bad president who made a terrible mess of thing. That's the charge that would have to be answered by someone who wanted to defend him, not the bogus charge 'he was a total cretin animated by Hitlerian malignity and nothing else'.