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November 25, 2003

PURITY....David Bernstein repeats a common lament among conservatives these days about George Bush's presidency:

"Compassionate conservatism" seems to have turned out to be a replay of the Nixon strategy of buying off every conceivable interest group that is capable of being bought off by a Republican administration, while using social issues and conservative rhetoric to appease the Republican masses. Nixon, at least, had the excuse of governing in an era when liberalism was at its apex, and with the constraints imposed by the other two branches of government, dominated by liberal Democrats. What is George Bush's excuse?

Answer: there isn't one. Like it or not, this is who George Bush is.

I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue — conservatives because they were so eager for a conservative president after eight years of Bill Clinton and liberals because it gives them a convenient object of hatred. But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.

It's true that Bush is temperamentally conservative, and it's also true that he sometimes does things that conservatives like: lowering taxes, for example, or invading Iraq. What's more, he talks the conservative talk pretty well, and all of this has fooled conservatives (and many liberals) into thinking that he does what he does out of deep devotion to conservative principles.

But he doesn't. I suspect that conservative eagerness for a conservative president has caused them to project their own views onto Bush, but Bernstein is right: Bush is just playing electoral politics. Tax cuts reward his rich contributors, invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser, the energy bill helped out his business pals, tariffs helped him with steel workers, the Medicare bill helps him with seniors, and the partial birth abortion bill helps him with the religious right. None of these things were truly driven by any kind of ideological purity.

This is why I'm much less certain than his supporters that Bush is planning to stay in Iraq. I doubt that he was truly motivated by the neocon grand plan or an unusual attraction to Middle East democracy as much as he was by a simple desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now that that's done, he'll get out of Iraq without a second thought if it turns into a losing issue at the polls.

The good news for liberals in all this — a bit of a thin reed, but still — is that it just goes to show that plenty of liberal principles remain very popular, regardless of what the movement conservatives like to pretend, and George Bush and his advisors have tacitly acknowledged this by refusing to hew to the ideological line that the Heritage Foundation folks would like him to. They know it would be suicidal.

The bad news for liberals is that while ideological purity might not motivate Bush, winning does. He strikes me as the most single-minded party politician since at least LBJ, and he is bound and determined to win at all costs — both personally and for the Republican party. He's a fighter with a mean streak, and that means that 2004 is going to be one nasty election. Fasten your seat belts.

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 25, 2003 12:40 PM | TrackBack


He's a fighter with a mean streak, and that means that 2004 is going to be one nasty election. Fasten your seat belts.

A figher? A bully is more like it.

Posted by: David W. at November 25, 2003 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Er, make that 'fighter'. AFAIK, Bush isn't into figs... ;-)

Posted by: David W. at November 25, 2003 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad to see you recognize that Bush is not a hard right ideologue. IMHO he's just the Republican Clinton; Clinton signed welfare reform, Bush will sign this Medicare thing.

Side note: What gives you the idea that "invading Iraq" is "something conservatives like"? Many conservatives argued against it. And most of the arguments against it (whether from Ds or Rs) were conservative (small-c) in nature. Including yours, I reckon.

Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

This is nitpicky, but it is important. Bush has not lowered taxes. He has lowered tax rates. By increasing spending he has *raised* taxes [substantially] (multiplied by the interest of putting them off). Unless of course, one considers defaulting an option (as is discussed over on De Long's site).

Posted by: theCoach at November 25, 2003 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I don't get your view of Bush at all, Kevin (though I usually agree with your perspective). Invading Iraq was not a good idea politically. The same people who could be easily impressed with a show of force (I mean the "bomb someone" electorate) could have been bought off with a decision to "swing our manliness" (was that Digby's expression) over something or someone else at less cost. Invading Iraq was terribly unpopular with the vast majority of people although invading somewhere was popular with a significant minority. But those people would have been happy if we'd just looked like we were doign something mean--so why did bush do it? It was costly even before they began actually paying for it, and they knew it was going to be costly (even if the PNAC'ers were in denial about how much it would cost).

And Name: And exactly how is signing this bogus medicare bill a sign of Bush's pragmatic, clintonian side? No one wants this bill except hard corporate welfare sluts. I see siding with them as typical of Bush's conservatism/right wing nuttiness.

check out Neiwert's new post on the morphing of conservatism into something hard, unpleasant, ideological and malign. I guess I've stopped believing in the existence of actual conservatives (people who actually believe in smaller government, or liberty, or anything good) and started beliving that there are people who think they are conservatives but whose views are too moderate and whose status is too low for the GOP to care about them, and people who pose as conservatives to get votes so they can redistribute wealth to their powerful supporters and their own families (e.g. Frist)

Posted by: aimai at November 25, 2003 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo, Kevin! I've been saying much the same thing since the day that ShrubCo Inc. came to power. "Conservative" is nothing more than a convenient semantic device that is useful in advancing the agenda of the entrenched interests.
The biggest suckers in this cynical game are the devout little fundamentalists who actually believe they have elected someone who shares their values.

Posted by: peter jung at November 25, 2003 01:01 PM | PERMALINK

"invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser"

And Kevin descends into wingnut-ism... gimme a break.

Posted by: Al at November 25, 2003 01:01 PM | PERMALINK

"a simple desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now that that's done"

I must have missed something from the news since I have yet to hear
that happen. Or perhaps by getting "rid of Saddam Hussein" you include
removing Saddam as President of Iraq and instead having his loyalists
kill and maim US soldiers and the Iraqi people over and over again and
perhaps having him or his loyalist take over again after we leave.

Posted by: Dan the Man at November 25, 2003 01:03 PM | PERMALINK

What were Bush's poll numbers when he gave that speech with "Mission Accomplished" written on a banner behind him?
Sailing into the sunset, I might add, although the ship was supposed to be going into shore.

Posted by: theCoach at November 25, 2003 01:06 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that should be obvious is that this White House simply doesn't care how much money it spends, or toward what purpose. It just wants to spend lots and lots of money.

And that is what shows Bush as a hard right conservative, influenced heavily by Marvin Olasky of the University of Texas

They want to "Starve the Beast", throw us into fiscal crisis, and get the federal govt out of the social program business.

Everything else is just tactics.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 01:07 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is not a fighter in any sense. Rove is a fighter, but only politically.

Bush flees at the first sign of trouble, just like 9/11. He's never stuck anything through to fix it--he's been eternally balied out of every mishap he's always created for himself by Daddy's rich friends.

The Vietnam War? Coward. Not addressing the UK parliament? Wussy.

The man has no prinicples whatsoever. Nothing excpet the mean entitlement he's determined to keep for all those rich oil friends who were so nice to him.

Posted by: paradox at November 25, 2003 01:08 PM | PERMALINK

WTF are you people talking about that Iraq wasn't popular ? did you all forget about those polls which said 70+% people supported his war ? (of course they all thought W was fighting the people who pulled off 9/11, didn't they... admit it, you thought that too)

Posted by: ChrisL at November 25, 2003 01:08 PM | PERMALINK


Invading Iraq was terribly unpopular with the vast majority of people

I don't believe the facts bear this out. For one thing you'd have a pretty hard time explaining why the Congress OKed the War Powers resolution. (Unless of course you mean here: the vast majority of people in the world, which may or may not be correct but is irrelevant to the point about whether, as Calpundit would have it, it was a "crowd pleaser", since the only "crowd" a U.S. President has to worry about - in re-election terms - are American voters.)

And exactly how is signing this bogus medicare bill a sign of Bush's pragmatic, clintonian side? No one wants this bill except hard corporate welfare sluts.

I am saying that I perceive it to be an electoral vote-buying effort, an acknowledgment of a voting bloc out there which wants him to "do something" on the issue, or at least will reward him at the voting booth for saying in speeches that he "signed Medicare reform" or however he will phrase it.

You may, of course, be correct that nobody wants it. Perhaps Bush's political calculation has led him astray here; I don't think it would be the first time. (I would never accuse him of being a political genius.) However as I understand things, it has the veneer of "AARP" approval and so he can list it as a bullet-point in all his election speeches and the casual seniors (though not nec. the politically active ones) will be Impressed - or so he hopes, probably.

Make sense?

P.S. You may be right about the bones it throws to companies etc., but that doesn't affect the point I was trying to make. I certainly hope you don't mistake my comments here as praise for Bush's actions on this issue; that would be a grave mistake. ;-)

Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 01:10 PM | PERMALINK

But the problem for Bush (and, unfortunately, for those of us who are involuntarily strapped in the back seat) is it ain't so easy to get out of Iraq. You ever hear of a vacuum? The risk for Bush in trying to get out is for a vacuum to be created only to be filled by Saddam or guys just as bad or worse. If that's the picture in 11/04 and the case for the war having made us less safe resonates with voters, he's toast. That was part of the stupidity of having gotten into this in the first place.

Posted by: leglaw at November 25, 2003 01:11 PM | PERMALINK

Where is the evidence of Bush's mean streak? With all the attacks and name-calling from the Left ("Hitler!" "Warmonger!" "Stupid!" "Can't speak!"), Bush has plenty of reason to "stick it" to his detractors. But I don't see where he has been mean to anyone. If GW truly did have a mean streatk, there should be some evidence, shouldn't there?

Dems often say Bush questions their patriotism. Well, some of GW's supporters might do that, but Bush does not. For example, GW challenged former Senator Cleland on his judgement, not his patriotism.

I think the Dems are getting skunked by GW politicially, and they conclude GW is mean. But I don't think getting beaten is proof that GW is mean.

Posted by: Kevin Gregory at November 25, 2003 01:15 PM | PERMALINK

How does the observation that "invading Iraq was a crowd-pleaser" mean that Kevin is "descending into wingnut territory"?

That has got to be one of the more unhinged assertions I've seen in a while. One can observe that invading Iraq was (at least temporarily) popular without being in favor of it, and certainly without being a "wingnut." For cripes' sake.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at November 25, 2003 01:19 PM | PERMALINK

I have to disagree. Nixon bought off the opposition by actually adopting their ideas, like environmental protection and a national minimum wage. What liberal constituency is Bush actually giving in to? None. His tactic is to support bills that enrich corporate backers -- consistent with business first, corporate conservatism -- while fooling some liberal groups into thinking he's following a compassionate path. What happened to the $15 billion AIDS program? What about funding his massive expansion of federal involvement in education? What about this boondoggle Medicare bill?

Bush is a conservative, and he governs like one. Liberals who think he is hewing a moderate line are just buying into Rove's propaganda.

Posted by: Amitava Mazumdar at November 25, 2003 01:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Dems often say Bush questions their patriotism. Well, some of GW's supporters might do that, but Bush does not. For example, GW challenged former Senator Cleland on his judgement, not his patriotism."

Preview of coming election. Bush I had nothing to do with Willie Horton, and Bush II deplored the tactics of South Carolina.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 01:22 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin. I have always maintained that everything that Bush does (or, if you prefer, Rove tells him to do) is purely for political gain. *Every* thing he has done is because he thought he would derive political gain from it. Occasionally, because he has no other guiding principles, other factions have been able to convince him to do their bidding by convincing him that it would benefit from politically. For example, Cheney and the PNAC boys and Iraq, which he thought would allow him to ride his post-9/11 bounce all the way to the finish line in 2004. He's cutting taxes and spending like a drunken sailor because he's been told that it will help him win reelection - and he's been told this by Norquist and his "starve the government" cronies.

What he'll do after 2004, I have no freaking clue. I really really don't want to find out.

Posted by: Rob Mac K at November 25, 2003 01:23 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is a conservativ, just not the conservative Republicans pretend to be. He is socially conservative, just look at his efforts to give money to religious groups or his gymnastics to ban stem cell reserach. Look at the judges he appoints and the executive orders he signs. Where you get confused is his economic policy, but he has a conservative economic policy as well, just not the one spoken generally. He defends capital holders against labor. He is a corpartist. Looking it from that view, his economic policies all make sense. Steel tariffs? Benefits steel owners whose capital is hard to convert. Tax policy? Shift from taxes on capital earnings to taxes on labor earnings. Medicare reform? Shift of medicare to payroll taxes which aren't paid by capital holders. Government debt? Not a problem to those who are not capital constrained and so can save for future taxes.

Posted by: Rob at November 25, 2003 01:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin left out Bush's fundamentalist Protestant religiousity as a visceral reason for political junkies to assume that Bush is more of a secular policy conservative than he is in reality.

Posted by: mark safranski at November 25, 2003 01:32 PM | PERMALINK

For concrete, empirical proof of Bush's mean streak, see this: Caught on Film.

What Bush has done for 3 years is find the most touchy-feely do-gooder liberal programs he can find. He then gets one of the beautiful photo-ops as a compassionate conservattive, usally with children directly effect by the program he gets a photo-op with.

What does he then do? Invariably gut the budget of the program he just photo-opped with! I'm not kidding--he's done it so many times they built a site for it, and no one will get photo-opped with Bush and their compassionate porgram if they can help it. It's the kiss of death.

It's mean, dishonest, manipluative, and plain fucking creepy sleazy. My God I've never seen a more shallow or mean politician in my entire life. The Nixonites have nothing on these creeps.

Posted by: paradox at November 25, 2003 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

For evidence of Bush's mean streak, just look at his policies, which have "fuck you!" written all over them. And that's been his method and style since Texas; it's not new. His detractors are reacting to his record; it's not Bush changing his style in response to his detractors.

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

And Dean is the only Dem who will fight back. Kerry, Geb and the others will fold and whine at the first repub attack ad. Dean will get down thier throats with the best of them. Fuck nice!

Posted by: Judson at November 25, 2003 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to echo Rob Mac K, more or less. I've always believed that George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, really doesn't have many convictions himself. He's just a convenient talking head for the people who really pull the strings. As someone (P.J. O'Rourke?) has said, the President is just easier to look at than a roomful of white men in suits. He probably has firmer beliefs now than he did when he was running in 2000, but he's only parroting what his "filters" have been whispering in his ear.

Kevin Gregory (above) may be correct in a way. Bush himself may not be particularly mean-spirited. I think he simply doesn't care about a great many Americans: there's a let-them-eat-cake attitude implied in many of his actions. OTOH, I think several of his handlers, and certainly a great many prominent members of his party, are indeed mean-spirited and influence him unduly.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at November 25, 2003 01:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Where is the evidence of Bush's mean streak?"
I would say that his mocking Carla Faye Tucker was more than a little mean.

Posted by: Mike at November 25, 2003 01:41 PM | PERMALINK

Win at all costs? Well then can I get an Amen for getting HR2239 passed so we can at least think that they didn't manage to steal another election? I'm going to say it again - no part of this discussion matters if the votes aren't counted and democracy is trumped by paperless touchscreen voting. There is no issue that is even as important as this one and I do think that rigging the election is an acceptable tactic to Rove et al. They learned the ropes in Florida in 2000. We're letting them get away with it again.

Posted by: Get HR2239 Passed Now at November 25, 2003 01:42 PM | PERMALINK

Hey just look at the guy, I mean visually

Look at his father, and then look at the son. Do it again

Look at Rove, look at Delay

Trent Lott might be a nice guy, Hatch maybe

This ain't hard. The guy is phony, self-satisfied, and mean. This is what I see with the sound off. Saw Nixon as more insecure to the point of madness but the shrub just looks mean

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 01:46 PM | PERMALINK

George Bush II is a religious radical. He is pushing for a fundamental Christian USA government. He is doing God’s Work. He is single minded in his need to be re-elected in 2004. He has gotten the USA into a Holy War in Iraq.

Posted by: Jim S at November 25, 2003 01:51 PM | PERMALINK

Why stop at Nixon for a comparison? Why not go back to LBJ and JFK. There's JFK, looking to beat Nixon by being "tougher" on Communism. How? By claiming there was a nuclear "gap" that the Soviets had opened.

A nuclear gap? If that wasn't shameless pandering to look "tough on security." Sounds like Bush being "tough on terrorism."

And for JFK, first a Republican-pleasing tax cut. And then he placated his base with ideas of a war on poverty, etc, and culminating in LBJ's pushing for civil rights.

So he pandered to the Right as "tough on security (Communism)" then proceeded to prove that through the disastrous Bay of Pighs invasion, multiple failed attempts to assassinate Castro, and finally supporting a coup in Vietman followed by increasing number of "advisors" and troops. That showed the Republicans and Kruschov how tough he was on security. Yep.

And the main reason he was so beloved in Europe was most likely the fact that they actually NEEDED the US's protection from the Soviets, like the "Ich bin ein Berliner speech." But today, since Europe is not so much a target of terrorism as the US, they can afford to, well, be so European about terrorism, Iraq, Iranian nukes, etc. Bush-hatred in Europe, some of the Muslim world, and here at home from the Left.

And how was Clinton any different in his cross-party pandering? Following through with the Reagan/Bush Nafta deal, pro-death penalty, Sista Soulja moment, etc. Please. It's the same old song and dance, and Bush is no more guilty than Clinton, Nixon, LBJ, or JFK.

Posted by: paul at November 25, 2003 01:55 PM | PERMALINK


I don't think that the war wasn't popular, in a sense, once it had been put in the table--but Iraq didn't have to be put on the table, and Bush and co had to do a lot of selling to put it there. Even so, there were a lot of people--and I do mean a lot in this country--who were against it and not many people (as evidenced by the very few out protesting *for* the war) who were "For" it in a very positive sense. People were told to be for doing something, and they felt better once something was done, but it wasn't a popular war in the sense that bush was pushed into doing it by popular opinion. Most americans couldn't remember where iraq was, and didnn't care about saddam until they were told to worry about him. Bush expended a lot of poltiical and economic capitol on the war, and we will see whether he did so wisely--if the whole object of the war was to get re-elected. If he was some kind of true believer (whether of the pNac variety or the oil baron variety, or the wmd variety) I don't think we'll ever know for sure. But I don't think the war can be seen as purely contingent on domestic politics or, if it was, Bush must trust Karl Rove, and Karl Rove must have been convinced of the Iraq "the short form."

Posted by: aimai at November 25, 2003 02:03 PM | PERMALINK

Well one big difference is that Congress never gave Clinton much money to play with. At least in comparison.

I can't believe this debt. I simply have trouble grasping, in me twilight years, what these people have done to the US fiscally

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 02:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo for this:

I doubt that he was truly motivated by.. unusual attraction to Middle East democracy

He is about as serious about ME democracy as he is about the roadmap to peace.

As he is about... reworking the Koyoto accords(wasn't that a campaign promise?).

Thank god he is serving an electorate that has the attention span of a toddler.

I continue to ask this question:

How long is the wait period for americans to forget that we are supposed to be doing democracy in Iraq?

My guess: 6 months after the election the republican's won't even need to haul their Diebold machines over to Iraq to enforce the chant:

Chalabi, Chalabi, Chalabi.

(He may be a crook and a dictator...but dammit he is OUR dictator)

Posted by: -pea- at November 25, 2003 02:05 PM | PERMALINK

That's just bullshit, Paul. Clinton never, ever would have gutted a program after just getting photo-opped with it.

How is NAFTA necessarily personally mean? What?

Sista Soulja was a rebuke to a voting bloc many thought he was captive to. Whatever it was, it wasn't mean.

Not only would Clinton have never done it, he would have been fried alive by the rabid fanatical press corps (liberal my ass) for being an opportunistic hypocrite if he gutted a program he photo-opped. The man couldn't sneeze without Scaife sicking the dogs on him.

"How is Bush mean?" they ask. If we had a real media you wouldn't be asking.

Posted by: paradox at November 25, 2003 02:08 PM | PERMALINK

>>And Name: And exactly how is signing this bogus medicare bill a sign of Bush's pragmatic, clintonian side?
Posted by aimai at November 25, 2003 12:57 PM

Oh and if Democrats passed their version it would be the best thing since sliced bread? Give us all a break, their version was twice as expensive. In all either version is a budget buster, Bush's less so.

Posted by: Balance at November 25, 2003 02:13 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, right....He's not a conservative.

Look at that "No Child Left Behind" act, which is probably the most deceptive naming of a bill since the "1942 Japanese Family Leave Act" (NOT MY JOKE).

Let's look:

* He wants to privatize social security.

* He believes that the law is never wrong (at least in Texas), when people are sentenced to death.

* He believes that atheists are not real Americans.

* He actions regarding public schools seem to indicate that he is opposed to the basic concept of public schools.

* He is against the separation of church and state.

* He is opposed to regulating corporations that hurt people.

* He is opposed to allowing people to sue corporations that hurt them (Under the TX Law, PG&E; would have made a profit by killing people in "Erin Brokovich".)

* He is opposed to taxes on unearned income (Has not said this directly, but his actions, and his advisor's statements, point to this).

* He wants to turn Medicare from a government program to a private insurance program.

* He opposes rehabilitation for non-violent drug offenders (except for family, of course). In his first gubernatorial race, he claimed that "incarceration was treatment".

And that's just quick and off the top of my head.

The medicare bill is BS. It's a poison pill intended to kill medicare.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff at November 25, 2003 02:20 PM | PERMALINK

You have a great blog, Kevin, but your insistence on civility simply brings forth too many ----- for my taste in the comments.

The topic is...BUSH. Is he MEAN? Yes!

Yet all these hosers how up to state everyone in politics is mean, which is rankly untrue. For Christ's sake, Bush is a mean bastard, and all this useless blather about what everybody else allegedly does is the worst sort of immature evasion.

Posted by: paradox at November 25, 2003 02:23 PM | PERMALINK

Funny how Kevin seems to identify Bush as doing nothing more than playing politics in order to get re-elected, right after running the piece below about the GOP gorging on pork as soon as they took over the House in 1995. Bush is no exception, Bush is the GOP norm.

It appears to me that there is a huge disconnect between Republican politicans and Republican supporters. The politicians parrot the principles of the supporters, and then either abandon them at the first opportunity, or pander to them by eating the cake and trying to have it too. I wonder when we can expect a Buchanan-like challenge to W. As much as I dislike Buchanan on 80% of what he stands for, the man has principles and sticks to them.

Garrison Keillor actually hit the nail on the head: "The old GOP of fiscal responsibility and principled conservatism and bedrock Main Street values is gone, my dear, and something cynical has taken its place."

Cynical is a bit kind, in my opinion.

Anyway, time to trot out the movie "Bob Roberts" again in time for the election cycle.

Posted by: 537 votes at November 25, 2003 02:34 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to discern any consistent or meaningful policy trend emanating from the White House, other than a general tendency to behave like drunken frat boys on a Saturday night, intent on wrecking the joint. Looks to me like the "conservative" agenda is to simply tear down anything and everything that was built in the past 5 decades, without a clear vision of what would replace it.

Posted by: peter jung at November 25, 2003 02:36 PM | PERMALINK

A figher? A bully is more like it.

Not just a bully. A Serial Bully. Also known as a sociopathic personality there is a very large and dangerous difference when it comes to Bush.

Scroll down to Detailed profile of the serial bully and the only thing it lacks is a picture of Bush to go with it. I challenge any Bush supporters to look at that list of 80+ characteristics and show one, just ONE that doesn't describe Bush.

Scary isn't the word for it.

Posted by: Thumb at November 25, 2003 02:37 PM | PERMALINK

This is obviously a topic (like all debates on motivations of Presidents) that will be debated through the ages.

I think Bush has a few things he clearly believes in. He believes that what is good for business is good for America (probably because everyone he's ever been close to is wealthy) and he is influenced by his religious beliefs. I think both of these factors have influenced his foreign policy.

Other than that, he clearly believes in winning. What if winning runs up against supporting business or religious ideals? I'm not sure we know the answer because he hasn't been forced to make that choice.

The scarier realization is that if he wins reelection, then there will be one fewer constraint (the need to face the voters again) on his ability to push for policies that help the wealthy and reflect a religous based agenda.

Posted by: Stuart at November 25, 2003 02:41 PM | PERMALINK

What's been left out here is the Bush is a *southern* conservative (or non-conservative, for Kevin). His breed, like DeLay, believes that the federal government exists to funnel money to big bidnesses that are loyal to him. That's the southern pattern. That's what he's doing.

He's conservative in the 20s and 50s sense, which holds that it's good for the little people if media and authorities hold up high ideals for them, but individuals who make the real decisions and have real money don't need to pay any attention to those rules. Remember 50s hypocrisy? That's conservative social policy. (It's one reason the family gets along so well with the Saudis, who have the same idea.)

He's an opportunist in that he's happy to lay down any BS that will a) sound good to his electoral base, or b) make him sound reasonable to people who don't pay attention to the follow-through. He has follow-through in spades for group a), partly because they follow these things religiously (ha ha) and vote reliably, and partly because of the 50s hypocrisy thing. Whether he believes that stuff is clearly secondary to his own exemption from it.

He is the single most *obviously* self-centered individual I have ever seen in public life. He utterly lacks empathy or imaginative identification with anyone else. And he has absolutely no scruples and recognizes no limits.

Oddly, a lot of people like that sense of ruthlessness in a president when they're feeling endangered. Remember Clinton's "strong and wrong" line-- he was right, and General Rove knows that. So expect the fear factor to be ratcheted up tight as a drum (sorry) through the summer and fall. People don't like that ruthlessness turned against them, though, so it needs to be disguised as much as possible until after the election.

Posted by: Altoid at November 25, 2003 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

I looked at the serial bully site. Most of those characteristics describe all politicians - in fact, I'd say it describes Bush LEAST of the 5 contenders in the last election (Bush, Gore, Nader, Browne, Buchanan), and it matches VERY well with Clinton. ("That woman" and all that.) Nixon was too surly to fit this list, though clearly he was a bully. I can see why someone on the left might think Bush fits most of them, but...
>sometimes displays a seemingly limitless demonic
>energy especially when engaged in attention-
>seeking activities or evasion of accountability
>and is often a committeeaholic or apparent
I think we can all agree that this "just one" point doesn't describe Bush. Or have we already forgotten Bush's extended vacations at his ranch? I can't think of a single way "limitless demonic energy" fits Bush. Demonic, maybe, if you are Ted Rall, but limitless energy?

Posted by: rvman at November 25, 2003 03:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, George W. Bush is a liberal. You just need to use the proper lens to see this. South Knox Bubba can help you with this at:

People are having trouble understanding why anyone would be opposed to expanding Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit for seniors. That would be a good thing, right? And uncharacteristic of standard GOP principles, right?

Not really. Not if you put the proposal in GOP Bizarro World context. See, in GOP Bizarro World, up is down, black is white, and wrong is right. They aren't really liars, as some would charge. They just view reality through a different lens -- a lens unencumbered by "liberal" filters.

If you go back and review the GOP's accomplishments under the Bush administration, a pattern emerges that illustrates this quite clearly. For example:

Clear Skies: To protect our environment by reducing air pollution, allow power companies and other polluters to continue or even increase their output of air pollution.

Healthy Forests: To preserve our natural environment by protecting wilderness areas, open them up to exploitation by logging and mining industries.

Environmental Protection: To ensure the protection of our environment, neuter the Environmental Protection Agency and roll back thirty years of environmental protection legislation.

Posted by: Denial at November 25, 2003 03:18 PM | PERMALINK

I totally disagree with the premise. Bush is more conservative than Reagan. He has pushed repeal of the estate, and the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, things Reagan never thought about doing as president. He is more beholden to the religious right than Reagan was. His doctrine of preemption is more unilateral than anything Reagan advanced. In short, he's probably the most right-wing president since McKinley.

Posted by: Paleo at November 25, 2003 03:30 PM | PERMALINK


[yes ok Iraq war was popular]
but Iraq didn't have to be put on the table, and Bush and co had to do a lot of selling to put it there


Of course Iraq didn't "have to" be put on the table. I don't know what that has to do with anything. We were just discussing your assertion that the "vast majority of people" were against it; my only point was that this is wrong.

Even so, there were a lot of people--and I do mean a lot in this country--who were against it

Begs the question of what you mean by "a lot". A minority is still a minority.

not many people (as evidenced by the very few out protesting *for* the war) who were "For" it in a very positive sense.

heh... "they were a minority but they were LOUDER". This is irrelevant, what kind of argument are you trying to construct? Louder peoples' votes should be counted more than quiet peoples'?? what?

Personally, I supported the war "in a very positive sense" whatever the heck that means. Did I "protest for" the war? Heck no. What does that even *mean*? The war was obviously going to proceed, no need for me or any other pro-war person to "protest for" it. Only dissenters need to "protest", that's the nature of the beast. If you're trying to paint the lack of "protests for" the war as some kind of evidence that it was (somehow, paradoxically) more unpopular than it really was, uh, all I can say is, you're wrong.

it wasn't a popular war in the sense that bush was pushed into doing it by popular opinion

I would agree with that, Bush exercised leadership (rightly or wrongly, agree or disagree) and chose a policy route, using up some political capital on getting it enacted. So?

Bush expended a lot of poltiical and economic capitol on the war, and we will see whether he did so wisely--if the whole object of the war was to get re-elected.

Whether Bush did so wisely has nothing to do with whether he gets re-elected, but rather with what happens vis-a-vis Iraq. Unless of course you think that he chose the Iraq invasion solely "in order to get re-elected", a common charge from the left but one which strikes me as rather wacky given that, as you point out, he had to *expend* political capital in order to get it done.

Bush invades Iraq, poll numbers dip, lefties cry "he did it to increase his poll numbers!" Sorry, I don't get it. (?)

If he was some kind of true believer (whether of the pNac variety or the oil baron variety, or the wmd variety) I don't think we'll ever know for sure.

Perhaps. Doesn't stop many here from mind-reading him, of course. :)

But I don't think the war can be seen as purely contingent on domestic politics

Me neither, so what are we talking about?

Again, all I said was that your statement that the war was "terribly unpopular" with the "vast majority of people", was simply wrong. It looks like we.. agree.


Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 03:33 PM | PERMALINK

Bush invades Iraq, poll numbers dip, lefties cry "he did it to increase his poll numbers!" Sorry, I don't get it. (?)

After the invasion, his poll numbers went up. Knowledge of that might help you understand the point better.

Posted by: Spinning Tops at November 25, 2003 03:40 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of quick comments:

1. Don't get me wrong: Bush is a conservative. I just don't think he's an ideological purist the way, say, Grover Norquist or Tom DeLay is.

2. Even Bush's father says he has something of a mean streak. I'd take that as pretty good evidence.

3. The Iraq war was very popular. I'm not suggesting that's the reason Bush invaded (he really did want to get rid of Saddam), I'm just suggesting that he wouldn't have done if it weren't popular.

4. On Medicare, keep in mind that while the bill has lots of giveaways for big donors, it does increase Medicare spending by $400 billion. It does it in a crazy way, granted, but it is a big increase. Given this and Bush's other profligate spending habits, it's pretty obvious that he's not a "starve the beast" neocon. He'll do what it takes to get reelected.

5. Matt Yglesias made a comment the other day that deserves more attention: "A party organized as an alliance between Big Government and Big Business just has too many big guns on its side." That's true, and in reality that's the coalition that Bush has put together.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at November 25, 2003 03:43 PM | PERMALINK

"the most single-minded party politician since at least LBJ"

I don't know if anybody said this yet, hello?, Bill Clinton? Didn't he invent "triangulation" and the Third Way?
What the hell was Clinton's goal if it wasn't reelection and his own popularity. He didn't advance any meaningful cause but for himself. (except for health care in 92, but he abandoned that very quickly)

Posted by: Reg at November 25, 2003 03:46 PM | PERMALINK

Spinning Tops,

After the invasion, his poll numbers went up. Knowledge of that might help you understand the point better.

Thanks for the helpful tip, but actually the situation is even more complex than that, since there is no single Time which is "after the invasion", but rather, a continuum of times. One cannot refer to a single "before the invasion" and then "after the invasion" poll data then and hope to draw any meaningful conclusions. One must look at (plural) times.

According to this page (I have no idea how reliable that page is) Bush's approval rating was at 62% from 3/18-3/20. The invasion commenced around 3/20 I believe. It's true (as you say) that some time after the invasion his approval rating became higher than that - at 65% from 4/15-4/17 for example. The implied point that Bush invaded Iraq in order to given himself a three-point one-month ratings boost still strikes me as rather wacky, especially since his ratings were up in the 70s as recently as June of last year, before the Iraq talk started in earnest in the first place. Seems like if he'd have just sat on his hands instead of invading Iraq "to boost his poll numbers" he'd still be in the 70s instead of having to get a *bounce* just to get to 65.

But that aside, it's also worth noting what happened at even later times than the amazing 4/15-4/17 Iraq 3-point bounce. (Because you see, there do exist later times than 4/15-4/17.) The numbers go down into the 50s and the most recent poll of 11/18-11/20 has him smack dab at 50%.

So, hmm, what were we talking about? Oh yes, Bush invaded Iraq "to boost his poll numbers". From 74% last June to 62% on invasion's-eve to 50% as it stands now.

Perhaps in your mind the logic of that works out somehow but it still seems pretty untenable to me. But what do I know.

Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 03:52 PM | PERMALINK

P.S. I should have scrolled farther down at that poll link - there's more than one. Some polls show no Iraq-war bounce at all. Of the ones that do, by my reading, none of the "bounces" last more than a month or so. And all (even Fox news) seem to show a sustained drop from about 62-75 prior to war, to 50-55 or so currently.

Yup, that Bush, he invaded Iraq "to boost his poll numbers". It was a real "crowd pleaser". Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go quit my job "to boost my salary" and then eat some mercury "to boost my health".

This anti-logic some of you guys have sure is fun.

Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 04:06 PM | PERMALINK


1. Don't get me wrong: Bush is a conservative. I just don't think he's an ideological purist

This is another way of saying "he's conservative on some things but not on others although the former outnumber the latter". I think I probably agree. Now the next step would be an admission from you that there was nothing especially "conservative" about the policy of invading Iraq and then we'd be in total agreement :)

Posted by: Name: at November 25, 2003 04:32 PM | PERMALINK

The "to boost his poll numbers" isn't a position I'm defending, it's a position that you've said you don't understand.

I should have scrolled farther down at that poll link - there's more than one. Some polls show no Iraq-war bounce at all. Of the ones that do, by my reading, none of the "bounces" last more than a month or so.

Apparently this is all a much bigger surprise to you than I thought. The administration's trends are marked by a steady and continuous slide with two major leaps that have stemmed the two slides. Link

You'll also note that the "bounce" you mention is much longer than a month.

If you look at the chart and see that the only way the numbers have ever gone up are in response to remarkable events, and that they've gone down all of the other times, what would be the surest way to get the poll numbers back up again? Another event.

Personally, I don't support the boost the poll numbers motive because there's not enough evidence there to convince me. But there is a logic behind it, notwithstanding your propensity to quit your job or consume mercury.

Posted by: Spinning Tops at November 25, 2003 04:45 PM | PERMALINK

It seems -- Al Franken was surprised by this, but maybe shouldn't have been -- that GWBush gets his mean streak from his mom, and he is said to be his mother's son more than his father's. She is apparently someone whom only Triumph could describe accurately and get away with it.

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 04:50 PM | PERMALINK

Name: there is no question but that the invasion did boost Bush's numbers (as everyone predicted it would) and for more than just one month:

Whether that was the motive for the invasion or not, who knows? I had a hard time figuring out beforehand why we really were invading and occupying country that wasn't much of a threat to us without any substantial international support. It certainly didn't seem to have much to do with the stated reasons given at the time. As a result, even though the theory that it was done to boost Bush's reelection chances seems silly, there don't seem to be any other less silly theories to counter it with, so it is easy for people to believe.

Posted by: k at November 25, 2003 04:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin drum writes:
4. On Medicare, keep in mind that while the bill has lots of giveaways for big donors, it does increase Medicare spending by $400 billion. It does it in a crazy way, granted, but it is a big increase. Given this and Bush's other profligate spending habits, it's pretty obvious that he's not a "starve the beast" neocon. He'll do what it takes to get reelected.
Given all the tax cuts that he has already passed and that will kick in after this next election it’s clear that he can “starve the beast” and not take the blame in some people’s minds prior to that election. And this is what it’s all about. Perception beats reality in today’s political world. If you can fool enough of the people enough of the time, you can have your cake and eat it too. George W. Bush isn’t just George W. Bush. He is the media product of Karl Rove, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and over 30 years of concerted propaganda that followed Richard Nixon’s actions to fight “the liberal news media”. Karl Rove and the RNC can effectively drop perception bombs by mentioning liberty and freedom. Add iconography to the mix (George W. Bush is always presented in the best possible light be it halos or American flags) and various techniques of pragmatic sophistry and you can start to understand the foundations of the very effective propaganda machine of Bizarro World.
Concrete, empirical proof of Bush’s anything is just going to bore the masses. You have to fight fire with fire in the real world. If he gets his campaign together, I think that General Clark offers the best hope to beat Bush in 2004 for many reasons. However, his inherent advantage over his rivals is obvious.

Posted by: Denial at November 25, 2003 05:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - "Starving the beast" is the mantra of small-government conservatives, not neocons. The neocons have traditionally favored more, rather than less, government, regardless of whether they were tax-cutting supply-siders (e.g., Kemp) or not. (Although McCain, who fits comfortably in the neocon camp, is neither a big tax-cutter nor a big spender). Norquist has never been part of the neocon movement (especially on foreign policy, which is the neocons' signature issue), and you really would have a hard time putting either Gingrich or DeLay in that movement.

Posted by: Crank at November 25, 2003 05:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Bush is a conservative. I just don't think he's an ideological purist the way, say, Grover Norquist or Tom DeLay is."

He is uninterested in ideology that he is committed to. (He admits being disinterested in ideology).

That's worse, because there is not even the requirement for internal consistency. He can do anything and be comfortable with it because, so long as it keeps him in power, because being in power allows him to put forward the agenda.

He has no ideological conscience.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff at November 25, 2003 07:34 PM | PERMALINK

WilliamPitt (1000+ posts) Tue Nov-25-03 07:15 PM
Original message
So I did my Sidney Blumenthal interview this afternoon...

"The press bears a great deal of responsibility in the common depiction of George W. Bush, in building up his image, which, as it has been projected, bears very little resemblance to how he performs as President. He was depicted as decisive, in command, somebody who completely grasped and was in synch with the needs of the difficult moment the country faced on September 11. In fact, he is manipulated by his staff, buffeted by the neoconservatives inside his administration, kept from important information, unknowledgeable about so much information, makes decisions on the most simplistic basis, never carries through on his own policies such as the Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East, operates in a closed, small circle, doesn’t seek out information independently, has fostered internecine warfare within the National Security apparatus between the intelligence agencies – including the CIA – and the Defense Department and the National Security Council.

What kind of President is that? The picture that appears in Bob Woodward’s fantastical book ‘Bush at War,’ which includes reporting that is totally at odds with the image of Bush that Woodward swallows, has done enormous mischief, and really is the basis and the foundation stone of what remains of the public esteem for Bush. If it were not for this image of Bush, which grows out of the exploitation of 9/11 and the lies surrounding the buildup to the Iraq war, and the compliance of much of the press corps, Bush would have nothing to stand on."
What is the most successful marketing of a product of all Times? Could it be George W. Bush or is it diamonds?

Posted by: Denial at November 25, 2003 08:56 PM | PERMALINK

He sure isn't a liberal. Heck, the guy is barely human.

One thing for sure...
Bush is definitely an asshole.

Posted by: Jay R. - Oregon at November 25, 2003 09:26 PM | PERMALINK

But Kevin, who is getting the $400 billion? Or does it just disappear into the ether?

When bush made his comment about getting his news from his aides, who better indeed, I at first thought, self, that man (figuratively speaking) is sure dumb. Then later I thought, oh, he was just saying that to yank us libruls chains. But then, when you see and hear him speak, when you look at his decisions like stem cell research, when you strip away the lies and bullshit, when you watch him, painful and disturbing as it may be, give a big speech, I cannot conclude that he bears that much cunning and acting skills.

So I conclude he is a loathsome toad, a sociopath with no conscience, no values, no complexity or humanity. He is greed and gluttony, lust and avarice, envious and insecure.

A crony capitalist, a simpleton hiding from his true vile self behind his facade of religious fundamentalism.

A cancer on this earth.

That is George Bush.

Posted by: Duckman GR at November 25, 2003 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is an ideological purist; but it's a supply-side purism. Big government is a relative term. It's all going to come out in the wash when we reach this massive, massive ecenomic boom on the other side of the current investments (fiscal policies) - Then 'government' will be small, as a percentage of the size of the economy. It's a roll of the dice with the country at stake. For Bush, getting there (to the other side of the supply-side investment) surely must be like "Crossing the Chasm" was to the .com world. Keep the faith, keep the faith, keep the faith....

Posted by: poputonian at November 26, 2003 04:09 AM | PERMALINK

I disagree about how much of an ideologue Bush really is. My bet is that he's splitting the difference. In a second Bush term (short break to heave), I believe we will see the social conservatives given red meat by the ton.

When it can't jepordize his re-election. Winning is everything for him. Ain't like he's used to it.

Posted by: zak822 at November 26, 2003 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

My sense of Bush's personality is that he thinks that he is just great for the country. He appears to have a god-given(!) sense that he is the Man of the Hour, that his instincts are always right, that his seemingly brainless platitudes are just what America needs...
and therefore, anything that keeps him in office is de facto good for the country. Even if it temporarily violates what he would probably call his 'principles' (eg the steel tariffs). That he talks up free trade while *simultaneously* raping it shows that he doesnt feel a need to fit actions to words- but I get the sense that he believes the words.

I think his budgetary policy actually has a root in comtemporary radical conservative thought. At least, Ive heard several conservatives articulate the idea that tax cuts combined with current spending "starves the beast"- forces a future shrinkage in the welfare state and federal bureaucracy.
So, why not spend tons of money on special interest vote-buying? It keeps the repugs in the WH, and it hastens the day of reckoning when America will be forced to jettison SS, Welfare, and perhaps public schools in favor of "market-based solutions" (read: old folks eating dog food).


Posted by: Carleton Wu at November 26, 2003 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

There is no good news here. None. It all has to do with cronyism, pure and simple. It's also about complete and utter irresponsibility in the pursuit of power, for what grander purpose, is not clear. Are we to conclude that there are no principled fiscal conservatives (who are not radical social conservtives) left in the country?

And not so fast on medicare. Polls I've seen (donkey rising) show that seniors are not impressed by the medicare bill.

Now the biggest losers here are the environmentalists. No good news here, either.

I think there might be an opening for Dean here. Against the war, pro environment, with a history of fiscal conservatism. So is he going to lose against Bush because he's too conservative.

Republicans need to reassess where this is all taking us and them . This is not my father's Republican party.

Posted by: Tom at November 26, 2003 06:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that Bush is not best explicable in political terms. Psychological analysis is the only thing that will do with this guy.

For instance, Bush's famous speech mistakes almost always involve sentences whose meanings centrally inovlves a positive human value. Watch the tape when he tries to say in a speech 'fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me' ..and fails. Why he couldn't say this phrase is right there on the tape, the phrase 'shame on me' was simply impossible for him even in the innocuous context. Another example was when he said 'Is our children learning?". There are many example like this

In remarkable contrast, Bush has improvised complex paragraphs -but in these cases the overall meaning virtually always involves a negative emotion like violence, spite or revenge. One of many examples: when he joked as Texas governor about not reprieving convicted murderer

There have been books and articles about the relation between Bush' verbal skill and the content of what he is saying. It is very unusual and these books link it to his extreme lack of curiosity or introspection.

The neo-con outlook is a natural philosophy for this extremely unsympathetic man. IMO - as unfair as this seems I think it is too mainstream.

I beleive Bush is more pathological. For instance, many have noted the unusual way he walks when he knows he is on camera .. like a little boy, swinging his arms to show what a big kid he is.

for a meaner analysis see the Counterpunch article:
"Stage Zero - The Moral Development Of George W. Bush"

or the Guardian article
"So George, how do you feel about your mom and dad?"

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