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George W. Bush’s worst mistakes

Posted by Richard on February 27, 2010

Catching up on Big Lizards, I see that Dafydd has opined on our previous president's five worst mistakes. I heartily commend it to you.

I suspect my libertarian friends will enthusiastically embrace numbers 1 and 2, and recoil in horror when they reach number 3. I confess I'd have to refresh my memory of the Hamdan and Boumediene decisions to confirm Dafydd's interpretations. But I'm inclined to side with him on this one, too.

For those who strenuously object, I'd point out that, under this gentler and more humanitarian administration, which believes in treating enemy combatants as criminals and Mirandizing captives on the battlefield, we've just about quit taking prisoners. We've instead embraced the macho t-shirt slogan, "Kill 'em all, let God sort them out!" Thus we've abandoned centuries-old principles of how nations ought to conduct war — and become less civilized. Unintended consequences.

Number 4 I'm not sure about. Dafydd is correct about Bush breaking his promise regarding the Iran nukes problem. I'm not sure how Dafydd's proposal would have worked out. And he isn't either, but wishes we had done something, even if it was wrong. I'm sympathetic.

I'm sure there's widespread agreement with number 5, which Dafydd calls "Bush's greatest failing" (emphasis in original): 

Like Mary Poppins, he made it a practice never to explain anything!

Where Reagan was the Great Communicator, Bush was the Great Obfuscator. He never quite got the point that one of the primary duties of the POTUS is to explain to the American people what he and his administration are doing… and why they're doing it. In detail: Here is the problem; here are the options; here is one we've chosen; and this is why we chose it. Here are the potential upsides and downsides; and this is metric by which we'll judge its success.

I don't mean going to the U.N. for permission to overthrow Saddam Hussein, or testifying before Congress, or filing amicus briefs in the federal courts. I refer here to going before the people themselves, as Reagan loved to do, and speaking directly to them to explain the overall strategy and how all the niggling details fit into the big picture.

But Bush rarely did it, if ever. Rather than define himself and his tenure, Bush allowed his political enemies to define him in their own misleading terms. Needless to say, Bush came out the loser in that exchange.

I think "if ever" is a bit unfair. He did it occasionally, and sometimes rather well. Consider, for instance, his October 2005 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, which I praised highly and quoted from extensively. But granted, that wasn't "going before the people" a la Reagan. I watched the whole speech on line, but I doubt many people did; most saw a 30-second clip on the evening news chosen to be at best insignificant and more likely unflattering.

And that was the problem. Throughout his two terms, the MSM worked relentlessly to get between Bush and the people and to obscure whatever his message was or present it in the worst possible light. Reagan was able to get around them and communicate directly with the people; Bush was largely unable or unwilling to do that.

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