“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, July 13, 2007

What is it About George?

  • I voted for Bush twice.
  • Watching the Democrats in charge has cracked a molar.
  • There is not one Democrat that I could support for president.
  • Bush is not going to quit so we have another year and half of his leadership.
  • No love it or leave, more grin and bear it.
  • He looked good yesterday at the press conference. So it goes.

Peggy Noonan has her say.

American Grit

We can't fire the president right now, so we're waiting it out.

Friday, July 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

It's been a slow week in a hot era. I found myself Thursday watching President Bush's news conference and thinking about what it is about him, real or perceived, that makes people who used to smile at the mention of his name now grit their teeth. I mean what it is apart from the huge and obvious issues on which they might disagree with him.

I'm not referring to what used to be called Bush Derangement Syndrome. That phrase suggested that to passionately dislike the president was to be somewhat unhinged. No one thinks that anymore. I received an email before the news conference from as rock-ribbed a Republican as you can find, a Georgia woman (middle-aged, entrepreneurial) who'd previously supported him. She said she'd had it. "I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth." I was startled by her vehemence only because she is, as I said, rock-ribbed. Her email reminded me of another, one a friend received some months ago: "I took the W off my car today," it said on the subject line. It sounded like a country western song, like a great lament.

As I watched the news conference, it occurred to me that one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president's seemingly effortless high spirits. He's in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn't seem to be suffering, which is jarring. Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn't Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president's since polling began. He's in a good mood. Discuss.

Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he's right and you're wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington to Baghdad that the American president is neither beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can't sit around and moan. But it doesn't look like an act. People would feel better to know his lack of success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.

His stock answer is that of course he feels the sadness of the families who've lost someone in Iraq. And of course he must. Beyond that his good humor seems to me disorienting, and strange.

In arguing for the right path as he sees it, the president more and more claims for himself virtues that the other side, by inference, lacks. He is "idealistic"; those who oppose him are, apparently, lacking in ideals. He makes his decisions "based on principle," unlike his critics, who are ever watchful of the polls. He is steadfast, brave, he believes "freedom isn't just for Americans" but has "universal . . . applications," unlike those selfish, isolationist types who oppose him.
This is ungracious as a rhetorical approach, but not unprecedented. There's something in the White House water system. Presidents all wind up being gallant in their own eyes. Thursday I was reminded of President Nixon, who often noted he was resisting those who were always advising him to "take the easy way." Bill Safire used to joke that when he was a Nixon speechwriter, part of his job was to walk by the Oval Office and yell in, "Mr. President, take the easy way!"

I suspect people pick up with Mr. Bush the sense that part of his drama, part of the story of his presidency, is that he gets to be the romantic about history, and the American people get to be the realists. Of the two, the latter is not the more enjoyable role.

Americans have always been somewhat romantic about the meaning of our country, and the beacon it can be for the world, and what the Founders did. But they like the president to be the cool-eyed realist, the tough customer who understands harsh realities.

With Mr. Bush it is the people who are forced to be cool-eyed and realistic. He's the one who goes off on the toots. This is extremely irritating, and also unnatural. Actually it's weird.

Americans hire presidents and fire them. They're not as sweet about it as they used to be. This is not because they have grown cynical, but because they are disappointed, by both teams and both sides. Some part of them thinks no matter who is president he will not protect them from forces at work in the world. Some part of them fears that when history looks back on this moment, on the past few presidents and the next few, it will say: Those men were not big enough for the era.
But this is a democracy. You vote, you do the best you can with the choices presented, and you show the appropriate opposition to the guy who seems most likely to bring trouble. (I think that is one reason for the polarity and division of politics now. No one knows in his gut that the guy he supports will do any good. But at least you can oppose with enthusiasm and passion the guy you feel in your gut will cause more trouble than is needed! This is what happens when the pickings are slim: The greatest passion gets funneled into opposition.)

We hire them and fire them. President Bush was hired to know more than the people, to be told all the deep inside intelligence, all the facts Americans are not told, and do the right and smart thing in response.

That's the deal. It's the real "grand bargain." If you are a midlevel Verizon executive who lives in New Jersey, this is what you do: You hire a president and tell him to take care of everything you can't take care of--the security of the nation, its well-being, its long-term interests. And you in turn do your part. You meet your part of the bargain. You work, pay your taxes, which are your financial contribution to making it all work, you become involved in local things--the boy's ball team, the library, the homeless shelter. You handle what you can handle within your ken, and give the big things to the president.

And if he can't do it, of if he can't do it as well as you pay the mortgage and help the kid next door, you get mad. And you fire him.

Americans can't fire the president right now, so they're waiting it out. They can tell a pollster how they feel, and they do, and they can tell friends, and they do that too. They also watch the news conference, and grit their teeth a bit.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The problem is much bigger than George, he is just the whipping boy for the Federal dysfunction.

    The dysfunction permeates every branch of Federal authority, to include the military.
    Thomas P.M. Barnett discusses wny:

    When Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling recently published "A Failure of Generalship" in the Armed Forces Journal, a tipping point was reached in the long-brewing fight between the U.S. military's "big war" and "small wars" factions.

    The big-war crowd wants to write off Iraq as an aberration, preferring instead to focus on conventional war with rising powers like China. The small-wars faction envisions a future in which messy insurgencies are the norm.

    Yingling's small-wars faction points accusingly to a generation of senior officers who should have logically foreseen the emergence of such intra-national warfare as the primary threat to global stability in the post-Cold War era. All the signs were there, including a plethora of U.S. military interventions across the 1990s.

    For our military to be unprepared for counter-insurgency operations going into Iraq, argues Yingling, is a profound failure of leadership. That we're still struggling to master such techniques years into our occupation is even worse. The colonel forcefully condemns the don't-rock-the-boat mentality of senior flag officers, and here is where the blame game grows immensely more diffuse.

    The U.S. military emerged from Vietnam decades ago with a firm desire to avoid counter-insurgency operations and nation building. America's historic preference in war has always been for the complete annihilation of our enemies: We come; we kill; we leave.

    To that end, counter-insurgency operations were subsequently reduced to a niche skill, ghettoized within Special Operations Command along with much of the civilian affairs expertise.

    Our larger strategic rationale was ultimately codified in the Powell Doctrine: If America were to intervene anywhere, it would be with overwhelming force for very limited objectives. The American public has no patience for long fights, it was decided.

    The Powell Doctrine utterly failed us in the post-Cold War era: We went into Iraq only to return to Iraq, we "stabilized" Haiti only to return - yet again - to Haiti; we intervened in Somalia only to return there last January.

    But the Powell Doctrine did accomplish this: Our military continued to buy and train for big war while ignoring the inevitability of small ones, thus earning Yingling's righteous condemnation.
    And so we went into Iraq with the Army that we had, not the one our troops on the ground wanted in terms of personnel, equipment, training and doctrine. Was this all Donald Rumsfeld's fault? Hardly. We went into Iraq with the force that our Army had desired and purchased over the previous three decades. It was an army designed to fight other armies in major combat. It was an army specifically designed not to be prepared for counter-insurgency operations and nation-building.

    As our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan accumulate, and as the list of failing states grows longer, a chorus of young Army and Marine officers emerges to call for change. Their arguments are countered, to no one's surprise, by senior Air Force and Navy officers who see their cherished rationales for continued focus on major war contingencies threatened, along with all the associated aircraft and ships they'd prefer to buy in coming years.

    This intra-military debate should focus America's attention on the real question at hand: Do we see a future world full of messy Iraqs and Somalias and Haitis? Or should we pull back from that long war focus and prepare for conventional conflict with China? Given the course of events since 9/11, which pathway seems more realistic to you?

    In that bastion of MSM thinking, the Cincinnati Post?

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  4. While I thought Mr Bush gave a reasonable performance, it seemed to me the substance of his reporting was shameful. Worse than the NYTimes spins its' reportage.

    Giving points for brass balls, Mr Bush gets his fair share, for dissemenating bull shit, with a smile.
    I was not alone in that feeling, Mr Fred Kaplan saw the same press conference I did.

    The outrageous White House report on Iraq.
    by Fred Kaplan

  5. Remember, amigos, it was the arrest of another Iraqi police Lt that led to the IED attack on the Brits in Basra, that secured and successful Iraqi city, that killed the female medical officer, the friend of the wannbe Warrior Prince.

    BAGHDAD (Associated Press) -- U.S. forces battled Iraqi police and gunmen Friday, killing six policemen, after an American raid to capture an Iraqi police lieutenant accused of leading a cell of Shiite militiamen, the military said. Seven gunmen also died in the fight.

    The U.S. troops captured the lieutenant in a pre-dawn raid in Baghdad, but the soldiers came under "heavy and accurate fire" from a nearby Iraqi police checkpoint, as well as intense firing from rooftops and a church, the military said in a statement.

    During the battle, U.S. warplanes struck in front of the police position, without hitting it directly, "to prevent further escalation" of the battle, it said. There were no casualties among the U.S. troops, but seven gunmen and six of the policemen firing on the Americans were killed, the statement said.

    The captured lieutenant was a "high-ranking" leader of a cell suspected of helping coordinate Iranian support for Shiite extremists in Iraq as well as carrying out roadside bombings against mortar attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, the military said. The lieutenant is believed to be linked to the Quds Force, a branch of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, it said.

    It's alright, though, we may have had the bio-metric info data based on those police shooters, we'll be able to identify those in death that we armed in life.

  6. In other words, Bush is not interested in his job and doesn't care. Which is basically the conclusion I came to about a year ago.

  7. Bush just believes he's right, and believes in God's guidance.

    Peggy Noonan is a pain in the ass, even if she is, occasionally (not necessarily this time,) right.

    We're still pissed at Dubya for the immigration mess. He's doing a few things better; Government "Outlays" are running at a very low 2.5% YOY increase, and the surge seems to be working a little bit.

  8. Bush is the eternal optimist. I think this comes not only from his Faith as a Christian, but because he has had good things happen to him his entire life. I think he wakes up every morning thinking something outstanding is going to happen, clearing him of all his short comings and failures. I think he has an amazing patience, much more than all of us, and he will wait patiently for that amazing, outstanding thing(s) to happen. He is so optimistic about this he will continue to expect this until his last day of office. This is the attitude he displays. It is the same one that infuriates his enemies and befuddles the rest of us.

  9. I don't know what George Bush is thinking and in the grand scheme his time is drawing to a close. I will not lay all

    the ills of the nation at his feet. I still say that considering our choices in 2000, electing him was our best

    option. Can you imagine a President Gore or President Kerry? How about another President Clinton or President Barak

    Hussein Obama?

    Peggy Noonan is not a woman given to hysterics and I can't criticize her point of view. What concerns me is the

    future. When the pall of defeat again hangs over the country, how will we react? Will we retreat into the navel

    gazing self doubt of the post Vietnam years or will we regroup to face down the sure to be emboldened jihadists?

    Will our military again develop paralysis by analysis or will it somehow find the proper way forward? Will the

    country propel the leftist party into total control of DC politics or will balance prevail?

    This doom affecting too many conservatives cannot be a good thing for a country that desparately needs strong leaders. If we're not careful with our words and actions we'll get exactly the opposite. That bothers me more than George Bush.