Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Talking Mule

One of the things about the Bush administration that just mystifies me is the insistence and persistence on things that not only won't work, but that nobody wants anyway. Take the social security 'plan' the president keeps promoting. It's clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't want private accounts and don't want their social security messed with or messed up. If it needs fixing, by way of an increase in the cap, then so be it. But that's about the extent of what folks will put up with. Yet President Bush keeps hopping all over the country to speak to carefully screened audiences about the virtues of his private account plan.

Or take the Bolton nomination to the UN. Now this is one of those "wrong guy for the wrong job" situations, and the nomination would be better left up in the hills for the wild animals to feast on. In a rare display of spine, the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to filibuster any attempt to bring the nomination to vote. The excuse is that the White House has not been forthcoming with important information, but the fact is that Bolton just isn't the man for the job. Senator Frist, the majority leader, knows this and after the last vote for cloture pretty much signalled his belief that the nomination is dead. The White House returned the signal with one demanding another go at it. Amazing and mystifying.

Apparently I'm not the only one confused by this behavior. David Ignatius (someone I usually disagree with, but also usually read) had a column in the Washington Post recently dealing with this issue.

There's a relaxed, mature kind of leader who knows, in the words of country music singer Kenny Rogers, when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. That leader is not George W. Bush. ...

Bush's supporters see that uncompromising style as a sign of inner strength, but to me it has always seemed more a sign of insecurity. Embattled, vulnerable leaders sometimes imagine that one compromise or defeat will undermine their ability to govern, but strong leaders are more confident. They know they can fold a losing hand because they have a big pile of chips in reserve. That confidence is still missing in the Bush presidency, more than four years on. ...

Bush's problem in this second term is that rigidity will limit his ability to govern effectively. Refusing to give ground on little things will eventually erode his power to sustain the big things. To successfully govern a sharply divided country, Bush will have to stop painting himself into corners.

Now, I've always seen Mr. Bush as the typical scion of a wealthy, well-connected family who has never been told 'no' in his life, and he's not about to hear that word now. Still, I have to admit that Mr. Ignatius may be on to something. Whatever the diagnosis, it's clear that right now, things are not going well for the Administration, and, let's face it, when the government isn't working, things don't go well for the governed.

I have this sinking feeling that it's going to be a long three and a half years.


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