Skip to comments.Chafee, Reed on the Bush implosion (3 idiots on a park bench)
Posted on 10/23/2005 11:31:38 AM PDT by got_moab?
George Bush plunges in the polls. His presidency is a tragic mix of hard-line ideology, incompetence and indifference.
After discussing the situation at length last week with Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, I am more troubled than ever.
Reed, of course, is a partisan. But he also has a good grasp of history and an ability to size people up. Sure, President Bush's policies long ago turned him off, but so did something else: the president seemed "remarkably detached" and "insulated."
Reed says, "You've got to raise questions constantly. You've got to challenge your advisers. I never had the sense he was doing that."
He says Mr. Bush was obsessed with tax cuts, deferring critical issues of military policy and defense spending. "I got the sense this was all about some ideological point and not about confronting the reality of the country and the needs of the country and the world."
Reed says everything in Mr. Bush's work habits was "nice and neat, 10-minute meetings, in bed by 10." And, sure, a president needs some time to relax. But overall, it's a "grueling, demanding" job, says Reed, and you need to not only test your advisers but also to seek advice from different quarters. "I never had the sense, temperamentally, that he wanted to do that or did it."
Chafee, a GOP moderate who often splits with the administration, comes from a different place than Reed. "I had high hopes," he says of Bush, whom he backed for the 2000 Republican presidential nod, even over Sen. John McCain. Chafee liked Mr. Bush's line -- "I'm a uniter, not a divider" -- and was impressed that the Texas governor worked well with Democratic state legislators.
Chafee thought Mr. Bush, who had a big reelection win in 1998, had the better chance of capturing the presidency. Some old school or family ties may also have played a role, he says.
During the 2000 primaries, Chafee had some premonitions about Mr. Bush's operation. He was troubled by "vicious" attacks on McCain from Bush allies in South Carolina and by Mr. Bush's visit to the ultra-reactionary Bob Jones University.
It took until after the November election, however, for Chafee to get a firsthand appreciation of what was ahead. "It happened quickly," he says, and came in the person of Dick Cheney, who was about to become vice president. Chafee says, "The Senate was 50-50 and we had 5 moderate Republicans that met for lunch every Wednesday and we invited the vice president to our (Dec. 13) lunch before they were even sworn in, and he read us the riot act."
Chafee has alluded to this meeting before; for him, it was clearly traumatic. He indicates that Cheney signaled the new administration would plow ahead on its goals and wasn't about to listen to advocates of a more cautious approach.
He quotes Cheney as saying, "We're going for big tax cuts. We're going to get out of some of these treaties..." He says, "It was a hard-line approach. I honestly almost fell off my chair...I said, 'You're going to need us. We're 5. We're 5 important votes.' And he said, 'Every vote is important.' He didn't seem to value our place."
Chafee took as dismissive Cheney's comment about each vote counting, as if he were saying the administration knew it could find a conservative Democrat to offset a Republican who strayed. (At the time, Cheney issued no substantive comment about the meeting but a spokeswoman said he wanted to work with the moderate Republicans and with Democrats.)
On Dec. 15, 2000, Chafee put his best foot forward and wrote Cheney to thank him for his time and to offer some thoughts on a "unifying" agenda for the coming congressional session. Among the items: "I hope the new administration will be open to proposals to reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil...." Not much came of his hopes.
One of the moderates, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, later bolted the party.
In 2005, more than ever, Bush & Co., in a severe case of second-term blues, seems adrift, or tone deaf. The suspense over whether Karl Rove would be indicted in connection with disclosure of the name of a CIA operative has had to have been a distraction.
The handling of the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court became a major embarrassment, drawing fire from both conservatives and liberals.
You had to wonder even about her basic qualifications. Last Wednesday, GOP and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to rework portions of her responses to a questionnaire. Members called her answers incomplete and insulting. The New York Times editorialized, "She thus became perhaps the most important judicial nominee in history to be offered what amounts to a do-over on a take-home quiz."
The Miers nomination came from an administration that presides over a disastrous Iraq war, at a time of eye-popping energy prices, and in the aftermath of a catastrophic response to Hurricane Katrina.
Bush's approval rating fell to 39 percent in a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll.
His substantive record is unimpressive enough. But sometimes it's the relatively small things, or the symbolic things, that truly grate, such as his spending so much time on vacation in Crawford and yet refusing to take a moment to meet with Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.
For many Americans, Katrina put things in perspective.
In November's Vanity Fair, editor Graydon Carter says the administration's response to Katrina followed a step-by-step pattern of the Bush presidency:
"Step I. Staff Up with Cronies and Friends...
"Step II. Ignore Warnings...
"Step III. Do the Wrong Thing...
"Step IV. Avoid Blame by Pointing Fingers...
"Step V. Reward Friends and the Incompetent."
In the same magazine, David Halberstam writes:
"Some 30 years ago, back in the days of Watergate, the question was: What did the president know and when did he know it? The central question of this presidency now seems to be more about us than about him: What did we know of the president and when did we know it? It is an intriguing question, for -- though no one can blame a natural disaster on a president, and all levels of government contributed to the incompetence manifested in those early hours as Katrina struck -- there was something emblematic about the president, when he finally arrived at the scene of the disaster, telling the head of FEMA, 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."'
For Chafee, of blue-state Rhode Island, Bush is a political albatross. They disagree not only about tax cuts, but also Iraq, abortion, and other issues. Still, Chafee receives reelection help from the administration. He rarely gets a chance to speak with Bush, but tells me that this past summer the president sought him out at a luncheon and offered "kind words."
Their styles and world views differ. It bothers Chafee that the administration projects a you're with us-or-against us attitude. "That's the mentality. I'd rather say, 'You can be with us and I'm going to try to win you over to us,' rather than polarizing the rift even more."
Is Bush dumb? Chafee says, "I've been consistent in opposition to many policies, but one thing I've also been consistent at is being respectful."
Chafee says Bush, Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem "overly angry." It mystifies him and it mystifies me. Since childhood, Bush has led a charmed life. Cheney has become wealthy. Rice is gifted.
Overall, Chafee looks at the nation and says, "The scariest thing for any country, I think, is the division, especially if it's haves and have-nots."
As for optimism about the next couple of years, he says, "Anything's possible, but I think we still have some big challenges, and you've ticked them off, whether it's the hurricanes, high energy, the Supreme Court, the war -- these are the big ones."
Democrat Reed brushes aside the idea that Bush is dumb. "He's a very clever person," the senator says. "I don't think you get to be president of the United States without having a certain sense of where you want to go and how you get there." And Bush can be affable, even charming, and disciplined. But, "He's not particularly interested in ideas or other cultures."
As for the people around him, "They've done a great disservice to the country." Cheney, "more dominating" than any other VP, is "not effective." Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld "hasn't served the president's interests well." Rove is a "political mechanic."
With the conversation touching on Rove, the campaign guru who became White House deputy chief of staff, Reed says it is important to distinguish between electioneering and governing. "I don't think the president is able to make that distinction." Reed says that a person who helped you win office is not necessarily a good person to help you in office.
Reed, who sees the president even less than does Chafee, says Bush operates in a bubble. "All the Marines in the White House snap to attention and say, 'Mr. President, Mr. President.' Everything's structured...Their campaigning is constant...events with pre-screened audiences on Social Security etc....It's a very comfortable environment but it's not reality."
But it is, Reed indicates, the kind of atmosphere that could yield the nomination of Miers, Bush's legal counsel, a woman who has never been a judge. Reed says Bush boasted of going outside "the judicial monastery." But, "He went into the White House monastery. This is a woman who's a capable woman but has been an acolyte as well as an adviser." (Like Chafee, Reed was not ready to say how he'd vote on her.)
In partisan terms, it's to the Democrats' advantage for Bush to fail. And, yes, they'll criticize him. But his presidency is to last until Jan. 20, 2009. Reed says, "Let's all be honest. As Americans, we all have a vested interest in a president who's engaged and is capable...There's no advantage to us as a nation to have a president who's been politically marginalized. But, frankly, to date, this all seems to be a product of what he's done, as opposed to political attacks by anyone else."
Reed suggests that people are reacting to what they see, and he's right, and it's scary.
M. Charles Bakst, The Journal's political columnist, can be reached by e-mail at mbakst [at] projo.com
It bothers me that our Senator from Virginia, Limp wrist Linc, is currently hiding behind Elizabeth Dole and the RNSC as they bank roll a huge smear campaign against his Conservative, 06' primary opponent Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. Needless to say I am anxiously awaiting the next fundraising call from the RNC.
Love it when RINO's get all puffed up like that in an Election cycle!
If by this statement he means that the President ignored the lunatic ravings of lying, power-rabid democrats, then I'm OK with it.
Only those with some manner of a vested personal or financial interest, those of the most fervent, head-in-the-sand, ideological loyalty or those who adopt the rubric of my president right-or-wrong, my president will reject the trusim that this administration is rife with incompetence, ineptitude and terrible judgment. It's one thing, indeed the rational thing, to recognize the actuality of these failings while trying to overcome them, remediate their effect and prevent recurrence. It's demonstrably another to deny their existence, label observers traitors and condemn anyone who points out the reality and that the emperor is without the proverbial clothing.
Oh, yes. It's a "truism" that Bush and his administration is incompetent and inept.
At what, exactly? Satisfying the infiltrators from DU and the liberal idiot class in general?
I didn't realize Reed had been President.
After reading this article, I fully agree with your blog piece on Chafee. The guy is worthless. Chafee should do the world a favor and just switch parties now. This way, Lafferty can beat Chafee in the general election.
I was merely replying in general and it was not directed at any post in particular.
For the benefit of those who haven't read my take on Chafee, here's my original post on why we should encourage Chafee to switch:
Here's a post showing just how liberal Chafee's voting record is:
And here's my letter to the NRSC asking them to stop airing attack ads against Stephen Laffey: