Friday, January 01, 2010


I suppose we'd need a third example to have a trend, but today we have David Brooks and Mona Charen declaring that we shouldn't really expect to be protected from terrorism by government because, y'know, government is icky and disgusting and can't do anything right (something conservatives tend to point out a lot when conservatives aren't running the government).


It may not be President Obama's fault that our multibillion-dollar Homeland Security apparatus is more Keystone Kops than "24," anymore than it was President Bush's fault that city, state, and federal agencies failed to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina. The federal government is (alas) a vast ungovernable enterprise. And the bigger it gets, the less effective it will become....


... we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved.

... the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

...In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, "Listen, we're doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through." But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways....

If that's really the case, why would it be? Charen doesn't say it, Brooks doesn't say it, but if we feel entitled to perfection in this area, could it be because, for seven and a half years after 9/11, we were told by Bush and Cheney and their surrogates that they were giving us perfection? That we should pay no attention to the anthrax attacks, or to the endless deaths of the wars, because they were keeping us 100% safe?


It's been noted that George W. Bush remained on vacation after Richard Reid's attempted shoe bombing of an airliner, not commenting on it for six days, yet he wasn't criticized as Obama has been for a much faster response. Why was that? Let's look at a transcript of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on December 28, 2001, six days after the shoe-bombing attempt. Our old pal David Brooks is in the conversation, along with Mark Shields and Margaret Warner:

MARGARET WARNER: David, a very different George W. Bush as the year ends than when it began.

DAVID BROOKS: ... he has expanded in scope. He has become less of the small neighborhood caring guy, more of the big President, the Superpower leader, and he has filled the role.

MARK SHIELDS: George Bush in the words of Jeff Geran, the pollster, said, he began the year as a question mark; he ends it as an exclamation point. And I think that's great truth to that. He was inaugurated January 20th. He became President really after September 11, and there's no doubt about it. There was a sense of confidence there that he did not demonstrate early in the first half of the year in his presidency....

MARGARET WARNER: Even his adversaries, his political adversaries, David, are readily acknowledging that he's a very effective as a wartime President.What makes him effective?

DAVID BROOKS: ... you can break down the last couple of months into a series of crucial decisions, and he's made the right one just about every time.

Should we trust the Northern Alliance? Yes. Should we go after the states that harbor terrorists, not only the organizations? Yes. Should we move out ahead of the coalition, possibly rupturing relations with Russia, others? Yes. That worked out okay. Should we downplay anthrax? Not personally get involved? Yes.

A series of correct decisions, and so we can talk about his style, which is very important, but he has actually made the right decisions on matters of substance.

Osama had escaped, the war in Afghanistan wasn't won, the worst foreign policy blunder of our lifetimes was on the horizon -- and yet he'd bamboozled us into believing he was Superman. He'd certainly bamboozled Brooks, Shields, and Warner. Eventually, when we'd realized that he was a failure, we were still holding him to this standard of godhood.


DAVID BROOKS: This sense we have found our moment and our mission, his personal mission, but looking at him today my reaction to the whole event was, could he have been more Gary Cooper?

I mean, if you took in a bunch of cultural historians and said, what are the elements of the simple, straight talking American, he'd have them all naturally and authentically. You know he said he didn't want to talk about himself; I don't look in the mirror. He had the ranch behind him; he had the leather jacket.

He talked about fishing and clearing brush late in the press conference. This was somebody who'd almost risen to Reaganesque levels of tapping into deep American stereotypes, and that is something I didn't see, I don't think many people saw a year ago, and if I was just speaking politically as a political consultant, that's magic, which not everybody has.

That was, I believe, this press conference, in Crawford, which ended as follows:

Q What are you doing with your days here?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm up -- I was up this morning at 5:00 a.m., spent a little quality time with the First Lady. And I just finished my book, Theodore Rex, by Edmund Morris, which is a fabulous book on Teddy Roosevelt. I recommend people reading it. I am going to -- I would have gotten up and run three or four miles this morning, which I'll probably do that this afternoon. I'm going to take Tommy around to show him parts of the ranch. But if Tommy weren't here, I'd be working down there, a little chain-saw work, clearing some brush, burning some brush.

We're making great progress in one of our -- one of the bottom areas that was heretofore relatively inaccessible. One of these days I'll take you down there. It's a beautiful place. It's a bodark grove -- bodark tree is a native tree, real hard wood that grows these giant green, kind of apple-looking things. But I'll spend time doing that.

And then this afternoon -- it gets dark here about 5:30 p.m., and so I'll probably watch a little University of Texas football tonight.

Q What about the tree you planted yesterday?

THE PRESIDENT: Tree plant, very good. My senior staff gave me a beautiful oak, 10-inch oak. And we planted her right outside the house. I haven't written my thank-you note yet, so I'll give them a verbal -- thanks for the tree. It is a beauty. And we planted about -- I think we planted so far about 35 trees, live oaks and cedar elms here. And it's going to be a beautiful sight for when these trees -- when they take off.

Did a little fishing yesterday, by the way. Not very successful. The water is cold, the fish are at the bottom. They're not biting very much. But just the fact that I was able to fish was a nice treat.

Thank you all.

A press conference three days later, also at Crawford, had these remarks near the end:

THE PRESIDENT: ...It's going to be a great year because people are going to be able to find work again. It's going to be a great year because our military is going to do the job the Americans expect. It'll be a great year because at home we'll protect the American people. And it's going to be a great year primarily because Americans have taken a look inward, reassessed their values; have realized that some of the basics in life are that which is most important -- love of faith, love of family. And as a result, our communities have been stronger. So I'm really looking forward to 2002.

I'm also looking forward to my cheeseburger. (Laughter.)

Q Any resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT: Resolutions? Eat fewer cheeseburgers. (Laughter.) Thank you, all....

Cheeseburgers. But it was OK, because he was keeping us 100% safe, and was making all the right decisions, and couldn't have been more Gary Cooper. Unlike Obama.

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