Monday, August 18, 2008

Not Dead Yet

David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers University, had an interesting opinion piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times on George W. Bush as a lame duck president. He gives a pretty nifty historical review of previous presidents at the end of their terms, but he thinks Mr. Bush got engaged in the process far earlier than most of his predecessors.

President Bush, it's fair to say, started limping fairly early. Since last November, when the election coverage kicked into high gear, he's been disappearing from public consciousness. His State of the Union address, which fell in the middle of two hard-fought primary campaigns, barely registered a blip. Barack Obama and John McCain are more likely to lead news broadcasts.

Even during an international crisis -- the Russian invasion of Georgia -- the news media at first paid as much attention to the candidates' responses as to Bush's. The president's jabs at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came off as more perfunctory than powerful, and on the world stage, it was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who stepped up to lead, however ineffective his cease-fire proved to be. Indeed, the brief time span between now and the next president's ascension may be one reason Putin chose to send in the tanks when he did.

All in all, Bush's lame-duck status seems particularly acute. Several reasons explain why. His party lacks a congressional majority, and his popular standing, which has been dismal for almost three years, keeps him from drawing strength from public opinion -- as Clinton and Ronald Reagan did -- to notch notable late-term achievements.

I suppose that would explain the pictures of President Bush cavorting with the women's beach volleyball team in Beijing, at least to some extent. He had nothing better to do, or did he?

Professor Greenberg makes it clear in this essay that President Bush isn't exactly powerless and that he hasn't been reduced to photo ops with hot babes or to clearing brush in Texas only, something that the country, especially the Congress ought to be aware of.

Bush, too, is less passive than he seems. His political staff in the bureaucracy is quietly advancing a conservative agenda. The White House recently proposed a radical change to the Endangered Species Act that would allow government agencies to bypass a heretofore mandatory scientific review process that evaluates the impact of their actions. The Department of Health and Human Services drafted a new rule that could redefine abortion to include some forms of contraception and allow doctors and pharmacists to deny them to women as they see fit. And the Education Department has been plunging ahead with a plan to force colleges and universities to submit to standardized assessments that could do for higher education what the No Child Left Behind Act has done for secondary schooling.

With the media klieg lights focused elsewhere, the White House has continued to undermine governmental safeguards and to advance the agenda his base (the "haves and have mores") still expect. Professor Greenberg's concluding comments contain an implicit warning:

But the 24/7 media focus on the campaign, Bush's shambling style and the feeling of a page turning on the conservative movement shouldn't deceive us into thinking that this administration's work is done. Bush may well be a lame duck, but he isn't a dead one.

155 days



Blogger MK said...

If Obama does manage to get elected
( I surely hope he does! ), his first act should be to eliminate all of Bush's Executive Orders. They are vile.

5:01 AM  

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