Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ellis Weiner Headshot

The Way He Douthat Thing He Do

Posted: Updated:

When Bill "I Have Been and Will Continue to Be Wrong About Everything" Kristol departed the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, a great cry was heard throughout the land.

"With whom will the Times replace him?" we wondered. "Oh, sure, we still have David Brooks. At least he'll be around, defending conservative lies, chiding our contemporary foibles and follies with his head-firmly-up-ass sociological observations, and drawing bogus equivalencies between 'the far left' and 'the far right.' But what if we need more?"

Then our prayers were answered. Not long after Kristol packed up his wrongness and cleared out his locker, he was replaced by a screwball-throwing rightie out of the Atlantic's farm team named Ross Douthat. And, while he's needed a couple months to hit stride in the Bigs, Douthat weighs in today with a column of such dazzling falseness and bad faith, it'll have us thinking "Bill 'Deeply, Deeply Wrong About Everything' Kristol WHO?"

Today's homily concerns George W. Bush. You may remember him from such political events as "the presidency of the United States, 2001-2009." I say "may," because as far as his fellow Republicans go, Bush is The Forgotten Man. They don't mention him. They don't name airports or schools after him. They don't seek his counsel. They don't appoint him to post-presidential committees or send him on diplomatic missions. It's like the GOP is Stalinist Russia and W. has been declared an un-person. He never existed and Republicans from sea to fuckin' sea never heard of the guy.

But Ross Douthat...well, god damn it, Ross Douthat remembers:

America has had its share of disastrous chief executives. But few have gone as far as Bush did in trying to repair their worst mistakes.

Sure, he just made up that last sentence in the hopes that no one will bother to refute it. "Few have gone as far..." Is that remotely true? Say it with me now: Who cares!? We're off to a great start. And it gets better.

Those mistakes were the Iraq war -- both the decision to invade and the conduct of the occupation -- and the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble.

Yes, "the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble" was Bush's mistake. By "yes" I mean no, that doesn't make sense. Clearly, this youngster can bring it. Sloppy thinking? Check. Bogus generalizations? Done and done. False premise on which to then base a faulty conclusion? Ask for it by name.

Besides, which of us hasn't made "mistakes"? Which of us hasn't ignored urgent intelligence concerning terrorists because we were too busy promoting a tax cut for rich people (and then vacationing on our "ranch"), allowing jets to smash into the World Trade Center? Which of us hasn't promoted, through fear-mongering, manipulation of evidence, and outright lying, a war against someone who was of no threat to us? And -- come on, be honest -- who hasn't dawdled and dicked around while a major American city is allowed to drown?

Mistakes happen, and it's all water over the levee. What matters, Douthat says, is that Bush tried to fix things.

The repairs were the surge, undertaken at a time when the political class was ready to abandon Iraq to the furies, and last fall's unprecedented economic bailout.

Both fixes remain controversial. But for the moment, both look like the sort of disaster-averting interventions for which presidents get canonized. It's just that in Bush's case, the disasters he averted were created on his watch.

Never mind that the last sentence above is incoherent, since a disaster is not "averted" if it has already been "created." Because the young man has his work cut out for him. A Times column runs around 800 words, and for a weekly column that averages out to more than 100 words a day.

What matters is that Douthat is trying (very! LOL) just as Bush tried.

It's true that Bush didn't personally formulate the surge, or craft the bailout. But he was, well, the decider, and if he takes the blame -- rightly -- for what Donald Rumsfeld wrought, then he should get credit for Gen. David Petraeus's successes in Iraq, and for blessing the sweeping decisions that Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke made in last September's desperate weeks.

The toner on the first printouts of history is barely dry, and already we get revisionism: Iraq was Rumsfeld's fault. Bush "takes the blame," yes, but only because he happened to be president at the time. And (having been entirely marginalized by his party during the election campaign of last year, his policies and decider-y achievements ignored by everyone from John McCain to Trig Palin, a duck not only lame but whose legs had been amputated) Bush is now applauded for not standing in the way of a measure that, in the end, seems mainly to have benefited his own best friends within the filthy-rich class.

And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it's worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency -- that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.

This is -- talk about recombinant genetics -- a straw man entirely made of baloney. It was not "the wisdom of the Washington elite" that Bush was -- and is, and forever will be -- insulated from. He was insulated from the truth. He was insulated from knowledge. He was insulated from the advice of experts not pre-vetted to tell him what he wanted to hear. He was insulated from CIA professionals who had actual data from the field. He was insulated from intelligent people not as committed to the cause of the Republican Party as Karl Rove preferred. He was insulated, by his own fundamental combination of resentment, insecurity, and unexamined anger, from anyone to whom he -- rightly -- felt inferior.

In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war's cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody -- right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street -- was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.

In reality, this is worthy of Brooks himself. Yes, the Iraq invasion was "popular with the public at the time." But when a sizable percentage of the credulous, frightened public (not to mention prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits) based that support on a falsehood (that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks), and when that and other falsehoods originated with Bush and his administration, just how valid is that popularity? Douthat, good little conservative apologist that he is, somehow overlooks that aspect of things.

This is not a blueprint that future presidents will want to follow. But the next time an Oval Office occupant sees his popularity dissolve and his ambitions turn to dust, he can take comfort from Bush's example. It suggests that it's possible to become a good president even -- or especially -- when you can no longer hope to be a great one.

And there you have it: a little parallel-universe re-telling of the facts; a self-serving and selective account of what happened; a white-washing absolution of sins and crimes to be blamed on others; and some circus clown tears over "mistakes." Put them all together and you achieve the impossible: Bush as a "good president." Bill "Always, Always in Error" Kristol's position has been well and truly filled.

Welcome to The Show, kid. Now you have to work on your clichés.