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Stephen Elliott

Stephen Elliott

Posted: November 12, 2005 01:11 PM

I Was Wrong About Bush


This was written by my friend Andrew Foster Altschul, a fairly successful fiction writer (which is to say he publishes and has a novel coming out) and lecturer at Stanford. He doesn't have a password to post here so I'm posting his rant for him. He writes excellent rants. -se

Erratum

I was wrong.

It happens, from time to time, even to the political Nostradami, the greatest minds of our generation. And if we will claim glory when our predictions come true, then we must admit it when they are horribly, grotesquely wrong.

Wednesday night at a cocktail party at the home of Julie Orringer and Ryan Harty, I held forth to Stephen Elliott and Peter Orner, as well as a small gaggle of my credulous and admiring graduate students, that I thought things were about to change. It was a defining moment for George W. Bush, the fulcrum of his presidency, I said. Even a baboon could not fail to notice that he was on the verge of permanent disgrace, the historians were sharpening their pencils to write of his failed presidency and its terrible cost: for American prestige and respect, for the U.S. economy, for lives lost in the Middle East. Perhaps most important, from his perspective, the "permanent Republican majority" is in jeopardy, the 1994 revolution's appeal, such as it was, lies in the tatters of New Orleans, Virginia's bellwether has rung loudly, the Terminator and the Exterminator have been terminated and exterminated. The Scooter Libby affair is a cancer that has given us the band-aid spectacle of White House "ethics classes"; the vow to "restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office" has become a punch line. As a second-term president, I said, Bush would be thinking about his legacy. It was time, I opined, to make some changes. It was time, I said, pleased with my metaphor, for Nixon to go to China.

The President considers himself a fundamentally decent man, I said. Unlike Dick Cheney, who wants only to see himself as right and powerful, George Bush wants to see himself as decent. He could not ignore recent events, I said, reaching for the shrimp cocktail. They were humbling, chastening - or at least they made it clear that a tone of humility and chastity would be necessary in order to restore trust in his administration. After a long, thoughtful sip of cabernet, I said humility and chastity dictated some housecleaning. It dictated a move to the center, an engagement with the parts of the electorate he has sneered at. Bush does not want to be remembered merely for cutting taxes and licking the boots of bigots and Bible warriors, I said, eyeing a truffle. He himself is not truly a bigot, nor a Bible warrior, and the time when it was expedient to pose as one has obviously passed.

I made other predictions which, in retrospect, are too embarrassing to reveal - though I still stand by them.

"Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war," said Bush in his Veterans Day speech, raising higher an audacity bar that he and Cheney have already elevated to Himalayan heights. "The stakes in the global war on terror are too high and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges," he said, reverting to the rhetoric of the pre-war marketing campaign and the post-Mission Accomplished backfill: If you oppose the war, you are a traitor; if you disagree with its architects, you are against the national interest. You might as well be shooting at our troops yourself.

"We will never back down. We will never give in. We will never accept anything less than complete victory," he said, the day after three hotels in Jordan were bombed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, just weeks after we passed 2,000 American casualties in this vainglorious escapade. Only cowards and Democrats could question his omniscience, his goodness, his will - and never mind that moderate Republicans are speaking out against the war, demanding an exit strategy, abandoning ship on issues of torture and presidential prerogative. Even Rick Santorum doesn't want Bush around. And when a bottom-feeder like Rick Santorum won't return your calls, it's really time to check your deodorant.

Meanwhile, Karl Rove took an I-didn't-get-indicted victory lap before the Federalist Society, where he beat up Federal judges, lamented the treatment of Harriet Miers (apparently forgetting it was the Federalists and Brownbacks who sank her), and impugned the patriotism of Democratic Senators Schumer, Durbin, Leahy, and Kennedy. (This, the day after Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney took applause following a reference to Kennedy as part of a "KKK, the Kennedy Kerry Klan.") Seeing as Rove most likely isn't allowed to urinate without permission these days, it's pretty clear that this was a calculated effort, a one-two punch, Butch and Sundance charging into a hail of pansy-assed liberal gunfire to prove once again: It doesn't matter if you're right or honest or successful, as long as you never stop calling other people dirty names.

"Karl Rove has... come into the cross-hairs of criticism from the liberal establishment here in Washington," said David McIntosh, co-chairman of the Federalist Society. "When the establishment can't defeat the power of one's ideas, they crank up the engine of personal attack in order to distract the leaders." McIntosh seems to have forgotten that it was a Republican prosecutor, assigned by a Republican Justice Department, who investigated Rove and indicted a Republican Chief of Staff for his conversations with a hawkish journalist and the resulting column by a prominent Republican troglodyte. Inconvenient though it may be to Republican delusions, the truth is that Democrats were on the sidelines of this one. But why should the truth get in the way of the marketing campaign? Why examine your own weaknesses and errors when you can smear people instead and change the subject? Self-examination makes for bad PR.

Clearly, there will be no turn toward the center. There will be no contrition, no reaching out, no soul searching. There will be no road to Damascus, no trip to China. Bush and Rove are going to try to shoot their way out of this, resorting to precisely the scummy smear tactics Patrick Fitzgerald just laid bare. They're going to keep trying to Swiftboat anyone who opposes them - except that Bush's approval rating is about 37% right now, which means they're going to have to Swiftboat almost two-thirds of the U.S.. Six in ten voters now think Bush is dishonest, and yet he's going to insist, as always, that we shut up and trust him or be branded traitors. It's almost funny.

But really it's sad. I thought, perhaps, there was a moment when better natures might take over, if only in the name of self-preservation. Once again I underestimated this man's tragic stupidity. My consolation is that it can't work. The numbers are against him now. If this is really the way he wants to spend the next three years, his reputation going down in a hail of bullets while he and Turd Blossom keep jabbering about everyone else's crimes, I say: Bring It On.