by Steven Jonas, MD
November 4, 2008
On the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times of November 2, 2008, six contributors were asked to respond to the question “What Will I Miss About President Bush“. As The Times said, “The Op-Ed editors asked six writers to reflect on what they have most admired about him.” The comments were thus generally encomiums of one sort or another. Although I hate, just hate, bringing facts into situations such as this, especially when it involves right-wingers, who are so sensitive to the introduction of facts into any discussion, I thought that a few comments on the factual side might be in order.
ROBERT DRAPER, a correspondent for GQ and the author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush said that Bush was “Loyal to a Fault.” Draper talked about Dana Perino and other “current and former Bush staffers” who “just loved the guy.” Draper tells us, that “President Bush has paid a price for his human decency.” I guess that would come as something of a surprise to one of his (formerly) most loyal employees, former press secretary Scott McClellan. Apparently by inadvertence rather than any specific action (at least according to Scott), Bush just left poor old Scott out to dry and did nothing to reel him back in when he inadvertently got caught up in the Rove-Cheney-Libby cover-up of their purposeful leak of the identity of Valerie Plame (Scott McClellan, What Happened: Inside the White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, New York: Public Affairs, 2008, chaps. 1, 14). “Loyal to a fault?” Well I guess it depends how you define “loyal” and “to a fault.”
ARI FLEISCHER, the White House press secretary from 2001 to 2003 who preceded McClellan (and who has not written a tell-all, or at least as much as he apparently knows, book revealing one moral failing after another of George W. Bush and the people with whom he surrounded himself) tells us that “I’ll miss President Bush’s moral clarity. The president’s critics hated his willingness to label things right or wrong, and the press used to bang me around for it, but history will show how right he was.” That’s right, Ari. Bush sees things absolutely in black and white and furthermore he knows that he knows which is which. He is indeed the right-winger’s right winger. Facts are totally irrelevant. As the journalist/author Ron Suskind told in The New York Times Magazine article published in the run-up to the 2004 election, he was told by a White-House staffer that he (Suskind) had better learn about the “alternate realities” they dealt with if he ever wanted to understand them. And so, the warnings of the impending al-Qaida attack on the US in the summer of 2001 were ignored, but as soon as it happened, Bush made the determination to invade — Iraq (McClellan, chap. 8). Because he just knew what was right and what was wrong.
CURTIS SITTENFELD, the author of the novel “American Wife,” apparently couldn’t come up with anything nice to say about “W.” but he did go and on about Laura, who he described as, among other things, a “well-mannered conservative.” As compared with whom, Curt? George, Rove, or “F__k you,” “shoot-you-in-the-face” Cheney?
One wonders how JACOB WEISBERG, the editor in chief of the Slate Group and the author of The Bush Tragedy was let onto the page when The Times was obviously trying to be nice, but he did share with us some of the great Bush manglings of the language: “I know how hard it is to put food on your family; [immediately post-9/11] I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport; [he wouldn’t answer a question] neither in French nor in English. Nor in Mexican; [and then] misunderestimated, Kosovians, Grecians, Hispanically, arbo-treeist, and strategery” (which happens to be a term coined by the comedian Will Ferrell and adopted inside the administration). I don’t know, Jake. If you can’t remember something nice about someone, why remember anything at all?
SCOTT McCLELLAN, evidently trying to get back into Bush’s good graces (goodness gracious, some people just don’t ever learn), said “What I will miss most about George W. Bush as president is his sincere concern for promoting human dignity.” There are two words that sum up the Bush approach to that subject: Katrina and Torture.
Finally, PAUL BURKA, the senior executive editor of Texas Monthly said, “I feel nostalgic about the person I knew as Gov. George W. Bush. I miss that guy. He was the best politician I ever saw. He really was ‘a uniter, not a divider.’ He refused to kowtow to the far right. He worked with Democrats to strengthen public education, while Republicans were pushing vouchers. He had four vacancies on the Texas Supreme Court and he filled them all with centrist judges. The extreme right wing of the Republican Party was his enemy, not his ally. His administration was untainted by scandal. Karl Rove remained an outside consultant rather than a gubernatorial staffer. But when he reached the White House, Governor Bush vanished, to be replaced by President George W. Bush — a person I didn’t recognize. He was never to return.”
One has to give full credit (seriously) for such a statement. What Mr. Burka did not note, however, are two things. A) observers have said that creating the totally false “moderate” image for W. was all part of Rove’s grand plan to capture the Republican nomination and then the Presidency in 2000. B) Regardless of whatever plans Rove and Bush had, the Texas governorship is acknowledged as one of the weakest, if not the weakest, in the country. In order to get anything done that he or she might have on the agenda or to create any sort of record that he/she might someday want to show to outsiders, the Texas governor has to work closely with the State legislature where the real executive power lies (yes, you read that right; in Texas, the real executive power lies with the legislature — but it is Texas). And in those days, pre-Tom DeLay, the Democrats still had some real power in the Texas legislature.
You can understand that there are some people who want to have nice memories of George W. Bush. Hey, it is possible. You just have climb into the Georgite alternate reality, and there they will be.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and a www.TPJmagazine.us Contributing Author; a regular Columnist for BuzzFlash; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC; and a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/.