Sunday, December 03, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 9 Comments
It's usually a President's second term that kills him. Sometimes literally. By Lincoln's second term he was dead. By Nixon's second term he was impeached. The worst of the investigations targeting Reagan and Clinton hit in their second term. The phenomenon of a second term destroying a President didn't just begin now, go back to the first President and you'll find a wounded and hurt George Washington battled by the volume of slander and attacks on his character launched by his political opponents, many of whom he had once considered friends.
A President's first time is his chance to implement his agendas and platforms. His second term is when the failures and consequences set in, the investigations and the endless hounding. It's when the physical and emotional toll of the presidency begins to take a serious toll. Hair turns white, posture droops and gaze becomes confused. And for the short term few Presidents manage to leave office after a second term without their reputation turning to mud, to perhaps be redeemed by history's posthumous judgment.
Lucky one term Presidents depart after a first term shrouded in mediocrity to be swiftly forgotten. Who has heard from Gerald Ford or George H.W. Bush Sr lately. Jimmy Carter's frenzied attempts at remaining relevant only make him more of a public joke. Unlucky two term Presidents usually stagger away, destroyed in one form or another.
What does that mean? It means being a two term President is an Iron Man competition, it requires being able to go the distance. Any halfway competent politician with decent political instincts can survive one term in office. It's the second term where the consequences of the decisions, good and bad, you made in the first term catch up with you. When the public has lost patience with excuses and your political opponents have finally figured out your weak points. You're a lame duck and the worst is just beginning.
The last round of elections just determined what had already been a done deal, that Bush couldn't go the distance, couldn't handle a second term. Long before Democrats had smelled blood, the Republicans were falling apart fighting each other tooth and nail and heads were rolling to corruption scandals. It wasn't Iraq that lost the election, it was a lack of leadership going from the top on down.
A President who increasingly treated Congress and the rest of his party with disdain, a party that had allowed itself to be filled with congressmen wrangling for pork and bribes, with jumped up Senators and Congressmen who decided the best way to get what they wanted and stand out was to pick fights with the President, with party leaders, with just about everyone. Consensus had been lost, agendas were going nowhere and the Democrats demolished a battered Republican party that had alienated its base as well as much of the American people.
When the election results were in, Bush turned tail as decisively as Arnold Schwarzenegger had after his own drubbing in the referendums. Like any actor when confronted with evidence that he's turning off his audience, Austrian Steroid Head had promptly turned as far to the Democratic side as he could. Bush followed suit jettisoning Rumsfeld, jettisoning the war and taking a back seat to the victorious Democrats.
The connection between the two men, is that both Bush and Schwarzenegger had run based on image. Schwarzenegger as the tough action star quoting his own lines in campaign appearances and Bush positioning himself as a cowboy. Both of course were facades, brands used to sell a candidate. Republicans eagerly embraced both only to slowly realize that they hadn't gotten what they thought they were voting for. Despite running as Republicans, their conservative credentials weren't very much more than skin deep.
Back when Bush was first running for office, I denigrated him and his 'Compassionate Conservative' branding as 'the Republican version of Clinton.' With the passage of time I was proven partially wrong but also partially right. Bush isn't Clinton. He lacks Clinton's egomania, selfish and complete disregard for anything that doesn't give him immediate gratification. Bush is generally sincere and when given a proper course can stand tall and serve as the head of state. After 9/11 he did just that until in Iraq he increasingly ran into a morass of policies he couldn't understand and reacted like most CEO's do, by sticking to the official line of success while pushing aside his advisers and cabinet members for failing him.
Not only were neither Bush or Clinton leaders, but neither were grown-ups. Their ideas about politics came from their backgrounds in college and for Bush, briefly in the business world. Their key skills lay in people management, in convincingly talking up their plans and forming alliances. In projecting an 'ordinary folks' image that got people to like and trust them. Those skills though only went so far. Neither Bush nor Clinton really learned very much after that. They never learned to properly reason or to take stock of their decisions and learn the errors of their ways. They were attuned to people without being able to examine and understand the bigger picture. Their people skills made them excellent politicians and bad at everything else. They were populists rather than leaders, glad-handlers rather than world-shakers.
Bush's second term was a failure, because it required battling against the tide instead of swimming with it. Anyone can get out in front of a cause and cheer when it's winning but it takes a great man to stand there in front of it and battle it out when it appears to be the losing side. Winston Churchill did it, even Tony Blair maintained support for Bush while facing political battles and attacks more bruising on a daily basis than Bush had ever experienced.
But Bush was not a man who actually had political beliefs, he was and is a manager out of his depth. He did not run for the Presidency or aspire to it because he wanted to change the world or make a difference or because he believed certain things needed to be done and others undone. He ran for the Presidency because he wanted to be President. Nothing more. He has deep rooted beliefs but they are crude and intersect weakly with his political life.
To hang on to a boat in a storm when you can escape instead requires the firm belief that your survival is worth less than that of getting the boat to shore. Bush never believed that and he's swimming to shore now.