Ed Driscoll

The Audacity of Compassion

Often it takes the distance of time and the actions of his successor to place an earlier president and his era into perspective. On Twitter last night, Adam Baldwin linked to this Rick Moran column from 2006 on “The Myth of Incompetence” which seems remarkably prescient five years later:

There is nothing new in Democrats and the media charging that a Republican President is incompetent. They’ve been doing it since the Eisenhower Administration. The ex—general was accused of sleeping through the 1950’s.

Nixon’s supposed incompetence was even highlighted in his administration’s scandals, as his detractors were always fond of pointing out that Watergate was the result of ‘a second rate burglary’ and that the White House plumbers resembled the Keystone Cops. His prosecution of the Viet Nam war and handling of the peace negotiations as well as his relationship with the Democratic Congress were also skewered by his critics as evidence of Nixon’s unworthiness for high office.

But these critics saved their most venomous invective for Ronald Reagan who was constantly called a ‘dunce,’ a ‘stupid actor,’ and much worse. It says something about Reagan that even when the White House press corp treated him with contempt, he never lost his sense of self—deprecating humor, making fun of his age, his work habits, even his own intelligence.

The way critics tried to draw the President’s father also degenerated into caricature as Bush #41 was belittled constantly for his optimism and enthusiasm. Trying to portray the President of the United States as a glorified cheerleader, his detractors succeeded in tarring George H. Bush as a shallow, substanceless rich man who never thought deeply about anything.

Why should it surprise us that Democrats and their allies in the press are seeking to apply the same broad brush to this President?

A more objective observer would note that the standards of competency being applied to this administration by both the President’s opponents, and now many erstwhile Republicans, are impossibly high. In this media—saturated age, where perception is reality and the present merges seamlessly into the future, hindsight has been flipped on its head to become foresight.

The President’s tormentors have twisted, mangled, and mutilated the truth and the facts so often that the legends they have created are now accepted as reality. In a truly Orwellian way, history is being written before events actually occur. And when something happens that in any other reality would be considered insignificant, it is pointed to as ‘proof’ that the Administration’s actions, or policies, or plans are an abject failure.

Also equally prescient is this Mark Steyn column from the National Review issue in early 2009 that said Vaya con Dios to the 43rd president:

Two months into the new regime, [Regime?! Don’t let Chris Matthews hear you using language like that! –Ed] no less an authority than Anthony Lewis of the New York Times assured us that “George W. Bush and his people are driven by right-wing ideology to an extent not remotely touched by even the Reagan Administration.” In those heady days of spring 2001, it was easy to take Señor Compasión at the Left’s estimation of him. Do you remember some of the “controversies” around back then? Arsenic in the water supply? I didn’t even know I was in favor of that until Bush started doing it.

But it turned out the compassionate conservative did mean it — on immigration, education, and much else. And, whatever we feel about those policies, we cannot say that we were betrayed — for few candidates have ever been so admirably upfront. Indeed, it is a peculiar injustice that the 43rd presidency’s most obvious contender for a Bartlett’s entry should be “Bush lied, people died.” The activists who most assiduously promoted the line are now having to adjust to the news that their own beloved “anti-war” candidate’s commitment to bring home every last soldier within 16 months has been “revised” into a plan for some 30,000–70,000 troops to remain in Iraq after 2011. On Fox News the other night, I found myself talking to a nice lady from Code Pink who was trying to grapple with the fact that Henry Kissinger and Karl Rove are more enthusiastic about Obama’s national-security team than she is. Many other Obama policies now turn out to be inoperative, and we haven’t even had the coronation. I don’t know about my Code Pink friend, but I already miss Bush’s straightforwardness. He spoke a language all but extinct in the upper echelons of electoral politics. “Bush lied”? Here he is in Crawford, early in 2002, being interviewed by Trevor McDonald of Britain’s ITN:

“I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go,” said Bush.

“And, of course, if the logic of the War on Terror means anything,” Sir Trevor responded, relentlessly forensic in his determination not to let Bush get away with these shifty evasions, “then Saddam must go?”

“That’s what I just said,” said the president. “The policy of my government is that he goes.”

“So you’re going to go after him?” pressed Sir Trevor, reluctant to take yes for an answer.

“As I told you,” said the president, “the policy of my government is that Saddam Hussein not be in power.”

Etc. George W. Bush is who he is, and he never pretended to be anything but. Do you know how rare that is? If you don’t, you surely will after six months of Barack Obama’s enigmatic cool.

Not to rube it in, of course.