Friday, March 05, 2004

Judging Bush

William Saletan has an excellent article up on how Bush is his own worse enemy:

How can Kerry persuade moderates to throw out Bush? By turning the president's message against him. Bush is steady and principled. He believes money is better spent by individuals than by the government. He believes the United States should assert its strength in the world. He believes public policy should respect religious faith. Most Americans share these principles and think Bush is sincere about them. The problem Bush has demonstrated in office is that he has no idea how to apply his principles in a changing world. He's a big-picture guy who can't do the job.

From foreign to economic to social policy, Bush's record is a lesson in the limits and perils of conviction. He's too confident to consult a map. He's too strong to heed warnings and too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends. He's too certain to admit error, even after plowing through ditches and telephone poles. He's too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle isn't enough. Watching the stars instead of the road, he has wrecked the budget and the war on terror. Now he's heading for the Constitution. It's time to pull him over and take away the keys.

I've argued for some time that disputing Bush's honesty is a tough and potentially dangerous strategy. Despite the fact that many people don't like what Bush is doing, many more of them still think he is doing it for the best of reasons. Questioning his heart is a losing proposition. What you have to do is question what he has actually accomplished (or not accomplished, as the case may be).

Take a clue from Howard Dean: he made progress when he argued convincingly that the Democrats were failing to provide strong leadership and he shot up in the polls. But he went off track when he focused to much on questions of motivation and character, even going so far as the characterize his opponents as Republicans at heart (instead of just being Republican appeasers). It was then that he started to lose the interest of the fence sitters.

Do not fight with anyone who says they like Bush. Just ask them what he has done right as president. Don't worry about trying to convert them. Get them to convince you that you should vote for Bush. When they fail to do so (I hope), maybe they will begin to see that there are good reasons not to elect the guy.


Now, having said that, I need to comment on Bush's motivation in order to respond to another part of Saletan's article.

Saletan makes a good point in highlighting the fact that Bush's most appealing characteristic (his absolute certainty of the correctness of his actions) is actually the one thing that disqualifies him for the presidency. Now, while I disagree with Saletan's assertion that Bush's tax cuts were a good idea up until 9/11, the basic argument of his thesis is sound: Bush doesn't know how to adjust his personal inclinations to meet the facts on the ground. Thus he is simply unwilling to accept the idea that an economic program that might have been good in 1999 may no longer be viable in 2003.

In Bush we have a form of extreme moral absolutism that contrasts with the moral relativism bugaboo that the right has railed against for so long. If something is good then it must be good regardless of the situation. If something is bad then it must be bad regardless of the situation. Evil and Good are inherent qualities arising out of the thing itself. They are not reflections of the environment in which they exist.


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