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Did Ya Miss Me?

November 29th, 2010 4 comments
George W. Bush Smiling at a Desk

President Bush is slowing reemerging into public view. I have mixed feelings about it. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After disappearing to his ranch for a couple years, “Dubya” has started to reemerge again lately, mainly in order to promote his new book, “Decision Points.” Like any ex-president, he is now looking to shore up his legacy. Still, the only nice things I can think to say about his presidency are that the TARP bailouts he enacted were probably necessary, and his mostly unacknowledged commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa was noble, even if much of the effort was wasted on ineffective abstinence-only programs.

Bush and most Republicans of course realize that Americans have not suddenly become fans of the man that shot our budget surplus in the face and tangled up Uncle Sam abroad like a Monday-night episode of “Dancing with the Dictators” (Saddam just couldn’t get that tango down, but boy could he disco!). That’s why Bush agreed to push back his book release until after the midterm elections, in order to spare his colleagues any inconvenient reminders to the public why they voted out the Republicans in the first place.

To his credit, Bush seems to have actually reflected on his presidency a little bit, even admitting to a couple mistakes – a big step for “The Decider.” Unfortunately, these mistakes are limited to the “Mission Accomplished” banner and the photo of him looking over Katrina-ravaged New Orleans: basically both PR stunts that should’ve been executed more thoughtfully. Unlike President Bush, I wish some of his policies had been executed more thoughtfully as well.

It is for these reasons that I have mixed feelings about Bush’s reemergence. A lot of conservatives, including Bush, seem to think that it’s only a matter of time before history judges him one of the best presidents in modern times. Although they have distanced themselves from his name and image, there they are, fighting to extend his ineffective tax cuts and pushing torture like it’s as American as apple pie. The tacit belief, it seems, is that anytime now the Republican leadership will be able nudge John Q. Public in the arm and say, “Hey, remember Bush? He wasn’t so bad, right?” and together they will be able to laugh about the good ol’ times, invading Iraq and keeping America safe before this whole Obama thing.

I am disgusted that anyone would think we have that short a memory, or that we could misjudge such blatant failures as those that Bush produced. Still, Bush has been mercifully quiet for a long time, unlike his friends Cheney and Rove. He has said that Jimmy Carter’s repeated vocal criticisms made his life miserable, and that he wouldn’t wish the same on any future president. For that I respect him. Jimmy Carter broke the ex-presdents’ code of respectful silence toward successors, and it is laudable of Bush to choose to restore it, though I’m sure there is plenty he could say about the Obama administration. Add to that the extraordinary job the Bush administration did cooperating with the Obama transition team, and it may be that the most effective part of George W. Bush’s presidency was his leaving it.

So it is with that in mind that I remain mixed about Bush’s foray back into the public eye. On the one hand, I cannot consider the Bush presidency anything other than what it was: a miserable failure. On the other hand, I have developed a begrudging respect for the man in the way that he has gracefully exited an ungraceful performance. I feel compelled to respect a former president, regardless of my opinion of his legacy, and since he appears to be extending the same courtesy to his successor, at least for now, I figure the least I can do is offer him a modicum of respect.

In other news, it looks like Pee-Wee Herman is trying to make a comeback as well…

The Dems Lost, But Who Won?

November 12th, 2010 No comments

It’s been about a week and a half since the midterm elections, which means almost all the race results are in. One of the most disgusting parts of modern elections is still dragging on however: interested parties spinning the outcome to match their narrative. I’m gonna look at some of the main ones I’ve heard and analyze how much of it I think is B.S.

First, the main Democratic Party narrative: people are frustrated by the economic situation, so they voted out incumbents, most of whom were Democrats. Necessary actions like the bailouts were understandably unpopular, but even so, Democrats held onto the Senate and did not lose as many House seats as in 1994 afterthe last Democratic president was elected. The public is upset, but not ready to “hand back the keys” to the Republican party.

There is some truth in this narrative. The Republican Party remains deeply unpopular, and voters expect to be disappointed by a Republican-controlled House. The election was not as much of a rout as some midterm elections in the past. Holding on to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, was certainly a psychological victory. At the same time, Democrats have to admit that they were the main losers, that they won three Senate elections almost purely on luck, and that they are not any more popular than Republicans right now.

Second, the official Republican Party narrative: the American people have rejected Obama and the Democrats’ sweeping liberal agenda to expand government and control our lives, and they have turned to the Republicans to cut the deficit and stop liberalism.

I think this is about 85% crap. For starters, “rejected” is a strong word. A lot of people are definitely not gung-ho about Obama’s accomplishments, but only about 1/3 of the population (Republicans & conservative independents) believe the scary tentacled monster government story – and always have – while 1/3 think Obama’s reforms haven’t gone far enough, and about another 1/3 just know that everything hasn’t stopped sucking yet. As mentioned before, people aren’t exactly confident in Republicans, so they should probably look up the word “hubris” in the dictionary before acting like they have a mandate.

Third narrative: the Tea Party is taking over.

Not really. The Tea Party success rate was not that good. By one count, only 32% of Tea Party candidates won, which, considering all the hype that this was their year and the overall success rate for Republicans, is not a very impressive number. That’s not to say the Tea Party is unimportant. It will certainly continue to influence U.S. politics, and we have yet to see exactly what will happen with it.

Fourth, Sarah Palin blew it for the Republican Party

This may very well be close to the truth. Sarah Palin threw her weight behind a number of non-establishment Republican primary candidates, including quite a few Tea Party underdogs that won their nominations and then lost to Democrats. In the cases of Delaware and Nevada, she may have single-handedly blown it by giving boosts to Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnel and Sharron “It’s not my job as a U.S. senator to develop jobs” Angle. Both of these races were supposed to be lost causes for Democrats, but thanks to help from Palin and the Tea Party, Republicans are looking at 47 seats in the Senate instead of 49 or possibly 50.

So did anybody win?

The Dems certainly lost this round, but the Republican takeover was limited, making it feel like less than a win. Can’t say Sarah Palin won. The Tea Party didn’t exactly win either. Pundits were hoping for a clear ground-breaking result and didn’t get it. The American people certainly don’t feel like they’ve won. So did anybody win?

Yes, Harry Reid, won. In the most straight-forward sense, by winning an unlikely reelection. His win is important for the Democrats because it is symbolic and means there will be no infighting for the Senate majority leader position. So that’s one person.

And Obama won, kind of, maybe. This is difficult to know, and mostly my opinion. However, Obama’s job might get a little bit easier from here and his chances of reelection may have gone up. This is because it is no longer possible to blame him for everything. Republicans share much more responsibility now for what happens in Washington, and their explicit plans to make Obama fail rather than work towards solutions might be easier for the public to distinguish from any ineffectiveness on Obama’s own part. Americans also don’t like one party controlling the government for too long, so reelection would have been much harder had Democrats held on to both houses of Congress.

Lastly, Democrats will be forced to focus on what’s possible to get done rather than what they have wet dreams of getting done. Obama operates much better in the world of the pragmatic possible, despite his idealistic campaign rhetoric. It’s very possible that Congress will remain in hopeless gridlock for two more years, but Obama may very well look like a crusader stymied by Congress, rather than a new leader trying inneffictively to lead it. Only time will tell, but on an interesting note, Obama’s approval rating popped up right after the election

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