George W. Bush.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Decision Points

It’s very rare that I buy books by living politicians. When I was young, and they were both around, I bought several books by John and Robert Kennedy. I never bought books by Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, or Bill Clinton. Neither do I listen to most politicians when they come on the tube. I almost always mute the Dems, and mute the Republicans only a little bit less. I generally regard politicians as lying weasels, and rank them below prostitutes and somewhere near lawyers, pimps, and drug dealers as desirable life forms. Now despite having said that I’ve always more or less liked George W. Bush.

He got a raw deal from the press, and the modern press corps is also something that inhabits the nether regions of hell.

The common consensus was that he was stupid, and not terribly intellectual. Gore and Kerry were the brilliant candidates. He got slammed for his service in the National Guard, and for having lied to the American people. “Bush lied, people died,” according to one chant. Now there is a big difference between a lie, which is deliberately passing on false information, and making a mistake. Bush may have acted on faulty, mistaken intelligence, but it was, as he points out, intelligence that everyone believed at the time.

In his memoir he’s chosen to deal with a number of key decisions that were made under his administration. I won’t go into all of them, but I’ll try to give my views on some of them.

  1. Military service. He served in the National Guard, and during his tour transferred from the Guard in Texas to the one in Alabama. He evidently missed some meetings, and apparently made them up. I gather that the Guard is more flexible about things like this, and knowing what I know about the government, I think it possible that his records may have been messed up. In any case Rathergate proved to be a non-starter.
  2. Afghanistan. I saw Medea Benjamin, foundress of Code Pink, in an interview, and she said that 9/11 should have been treated as a law enforcement issue. Well, we asked the Taliban to pretty please turn bin Laden over to us, and they refused. So what are we supposed to do? Twiddle our thumbs. Bush made the right decision on Afghanistan.
  3. Iraq. He goes into detail about Iraq, and the intelligence that was available about Saddam’s WMD. My personal take is that Saddam was a bad apple, and should have been turned into cider, so I see nothing wrong with attacking him. It needs to be remembered that Saddam had already had 17 resolutions that urged him to come clean. The UN could have spent from then until the Big Crunch or the Big Rip passing resolutions, and Saddam still would have done nothing.
  4. Katrina. The impression I got from news reports back then, and which Bush confirms, is that the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans were incompetent idiots. Nothing said here refutes that judgment. Buses that could have been used to move people to safety sat in parking lots. Aid that could have been and should have been requested was not.
  5. Stem cells. In an earlier chamber he describes helping his mother when she had a miscarriage. The event had a strong effect on him, and may have been crucial in helping form his pro-life views. In any case he was not anti-science. He allowed federal funding for research on existing fetal stem cell lines. He did not prohibit private funding for research on new fetal stem cell lines. He also points out that adult stem cells are the ones that have proven fruitful, and fetal stem cell research… not so much.
  6. TARP and the bailouts. I’ve got mixed feelings and ideas about this one. I’m inclined to think that most of the firms should have failed, and the bailout shouldn’t have happened. On the other hand I also see the danger that collapse could have, and that it might have played into Obama’s hands even more, and enabled him to impose more drastic measures upon the economy than he already has. I can also see the need to break the psychology that was heading towards market disaster. So I’m glad I didn’t have to make the decision.
  7. I think that Bush does a fairly good job of defending his record. Given his reputation the writing is not as bad as you might expect. It’s not great writing. Bush isn’t Tom Jefferson or Abe Lincoln, but then he’s not Millard Fillmore either. (Yes, he probably did have ghosties in there helping, but what president since Grover Cleveland hasn’t?)

Next up, a brief return to the St. John’s list with Melville’s novella Benito Cereno.