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They Still Haven't Figured Him Out

Old 12-07-04, 08:53 AM
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They Still Haven't Figured Him Out

<b>They Still Haven't Figured Him Out</b>
From the December 13, 2004 issue: Bush's unexpected qualities.
by Fred Barnes
12/13/2004, Volume 010, Issue 13


A DEMOCRATIC SENATOR who attended a special screening of the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 was asked what he thought was the most revealing part about President Bush. The senator pondered a moment, then said it was the episode where Bush, in close-up, continues to talk to a grade-school class in Sarasota, Florida, for six or seven minutes after he's learned that planes had flown into the World Trade Center. What did it reveal? The senator couldn't say.

My impression, as Bush begins his second term in the White House, is that many in the political community, including the press, still haven't figured him out. One reason is the Bush presidency has emerged quite differently from what was expected. So here are five things about the president that help explain why he does what he does. They aren't the only five aspects of his presidency, but they're five important ones.

* ACTIVIST. The label is usually applied to liberal politicians, rarely conservatives. In Bush's case, it means he has a lengthy agenda and is impatient about enacting it. And it's an agenda--Social Security reform, altering the balance on the Supreme Court, tax reform, reversing cultural trends, a crusade for democracy around the globe--for change. Bush didn't get his activist streak from his father. George H.W. Bush was a caretaker president, dealing with items as they arrived in his in-basket. He lost his bid for reelection in 1992 partly because he didn't have much on his mind for a second term. Bush has a lot, and it's not trivial. One of his most stinging criticisms is to label a proposal "smallball"--in other words, not big or bold enough for serious presidential attention.

* OUTSIDER. Bush is an alien inside the Beltway. His election was the equivalent of getting a green card to work in Washington. He's not part of the social whirl. Nor has he made many close friends on Capitol Hill or around town. What separates him from the Washington crowd? More than anything else, it's religion. Bush is the first president who's a product of the modern evangelical movement, which means his Christian faith is personal, intense, and all-encompassing. It's not a part-time, Sunday-only thing. Leave Washington and you frequently encounter people who say of the president, "He's one of us." You don't hear that in Washington. A Texas friend recently sent the president a copy of Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy. Bush read most of it and asked Sharansky to meet with him at the White House. Bush praised Sharansky for his years as a dissident in the Soviet Union. To which Sharansky replied, "Now you are the chief dissident of the world."

* PRESS-BASHER. Bush has not made peace with the press, far from it. He views most reporters as political opponents eager to pepper him with gotcha questions. In Colombia last month, he appeared before reporters with President Alvaro Uribe. Bush didn't like the first question about a scuffle two days earlier involving the Secret Service. "This is a question?" he said, and gave a curt answer. Uribe said, "Do you want to get in one more [question]?" Bush said, "That's plenty. No. Thank you," ending the press conference prematurely.

Bush believes, correctly, that the Washington press corps favored John Kerry in the election. "Ninety percent for Kerry" is what White House aides say. Coverage of Bush reflected this. The Center for Media and Public Affairs found that coverage of Kerry was the most favorable for any presidential candidate since it began examining campaigns in 1988, while Bush's was mostly negative. Reporters complain they get little information from the White House. Chances are they'll get even less in the second term. Bush's calculation is that spending more time with the press would be time poorly spent.

* SURPRISER. Bush likes to defy the conventional wisdom. He often does it without even trying. I recently asked a leading supporter of Israel if he had known Bush would become the most pro-Israel president ever. He hadn't. Bush was expected to govern as a moderate conservative, but on most issues he's become hard core. He was expected to relax after November 2. Instead, he's plotting for next year. Presidents, indeed most politicians, are disinclined to give aides credit for their success. But Bush surprised Washington on the day after his reelection by calling Karl Rove "the architect" of his victory. The conventional wisdom is that Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage to help win reelection but won't actually push it. The surprise of his second term may be that he pushes it aggressively.

* VISIONARY. Really. True, the word just doesn't seem to go with the Bush persona, or at least with the popular notion of Bush, the swaggering Texan. But in speech after speech, Bush has laid out a vision of democratizing the Middle East, then the world. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, last week, he pretended Canada shares his "great commitment . . . to enhance our own security by promoting freedom and hope and democracy in the broader Middle East." Most of Europe and Bush's own State Department disagree with this effort. But Bush is adamant. "It is cultural condescension to claim that some peoples or some cultures or some religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government," he said in Halifax. With little fanfare, Bush also changed America's national security strategy from containment to preemption.

So where does all this leave us in understanding Bush? The first step is to abandon the original preconception of President Bush. He's different. The second step is to accept that he's attempting big things. And the third, as a result, is to get ready for a second presidential term like few we've seen.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
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Old 12-07-04, 10:21 AM
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Nice essay. I read it a few days ago. These are the reasons why the "Washington Establishment" and the liberal media don't like him. He doesn't do their dance.
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Old 12-07-04, 10:30 AM
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I read this too and Barnes is spot-on with his talking points.

Last edited by Geofferson; 12-07-04 at 10:40 AM.
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Old 12-07-04, 10:43 AM
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Bush's calculation is that spending more time with the press would be time poorly spent.
AMEN!
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Old 12-07-04, 10:51 AM
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I guess the press would be better suited tossing up softballs to Bush like a Larry King interview. I'm sure you'd get a lot of information from that.
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Old 12-07-04, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by VinVega
I guess the press would be better suited tossing up softballs to Bush like a Larry King interview. I'm sure you'd get a lot of information from that.
I think the perception by the Republicans is the the press tosses up softballs to the Democrats, and plays 'hardball' with the Republicans. They should play 'hardball' across the board.
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Old 12-07-04, 11:25 AM
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Another key point I'd add is popularity. Not that Bush isn't popular, but that popularity is not what drives his convictions and thus, his policies. I believe the President touched on this during the second debate.
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Old 12-07-04, 11:48 AM
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* PRESS-BASHER. Bush has not made peace with the press, far from it. He views most reporters as political opponents eager to pepper him with gotcha questions. In Colombia last month, he appeared before reporters with President Alvaro Uribe. Bush didn't like the first question about a scuffle two days earlier involving the Secret Service. "This is a question?" he said, and gave a curt answer. Uribe said, "Do you want to get in one more [question]?" Bush said, "That's plenty. No. Thank you," ending the press conference prematurely.
Yeah, because god forbid the President of the United States be expected to answer questions from the press every once in a while without acting like a petulant child.
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Old 12-07-04, 11:55 AM
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"Tunnel Visionary" would be more appropriate.
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Old 12-07-04, 12:11 PM
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I'd say I agree with most all of this...except the part about religion.

There's a crapload of former presidents in our past that based their entire lives on religious beliefs, despite the forces in our country that try to whitewash that fact.
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Old 12-07-04, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by DarkestPhoenix
I'd say I agree with most all of this...except the part about religion.There's a crapload of former presidents in our past that based their entire lives on religious beliefs, despite the forces in our country that try to whitewash that fact.
What "forces" are trying to "whitewash" the fact that most presidents have been religious? Even John Kerry spent a nontrivial amount of time discussing his Catholic background.

The article didn't assert that GW is the first religious president, but rather: "Bush is the first president who's a product of the modern evangelical movement, which means his Christian faith is personal, intense, and all-encompassing," and that's an accurate and fair statement. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Around the time of the election, a lot of conservatives characterized GW's more extreme positions as election-year posturing. I thought those statements were short-sighted, in light of GW's characteristic rashness. And, as the article posits, I think those conservatives may be pretty surprised over the next four years. Statements like "I earned a lot of political capital, and now I intend to use it" are rather ominous.

- David Stein
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Old 12-07-04, 01:34 PM
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Statements like "I earned a lot of political capital, and now I intend to use it" are rather ominous.
They should be ominous for liberals. This election hopefully has driven a stake in the heart of the '60's liberal movement.
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Old 12-07-04, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by bhk
They should be ominous for liberals. This election hopefully has driven a stake in the heart of the '60's liberal movement.

I was gonna say that but I was skeered...
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Old 12-07-04, 01:46 PM
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Originally Posted by mosquitobite
I was gonna say that but I was skeered...
Yeah, screw this "diversity" thing, and having a range of opinions. We'll be so much happier when we're a nation of identical thinkers, under one president and one God.

- David Stein
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Old 12-07-04, 01:57 PM
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It's not diversity I want to screw.

I want to screw liberalism

Wait, is that an oxymoron
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Old 12-07-04, 01:58 PM
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Yeah, screw this "diversity" thing, and having a range of opinions. We'll be so much happier when we're a nation of identical thinkers, under one president and one God.

- David Stein


I hadn't realized that Bush was using the Jedi Mind Trick on the american people. Get your tinfoil hats out.
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Old 12-07-04, 02:35 PM
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Originally Posted by mosquitobite
It's not diversity I want to screw.

I want to screw liberalism
But as it stands, liberalism is the only popular viewpoint alternative to conservatism. And even these disagreements "run the spectrum from A to B," as they say - the number of issues on which the groups agree hugely outweigh the number on which they differ.

So basically, <b>mosquitobite</b>, you're in favor of eliminating the only alternative point of view to your own. Is that correct?

- David Stein
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Old 12-07-04, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by sfsdfd
Yeah, screw this "diversity" thing, and having a range of opinions. We'll be so much happier when we're a nation of identical thinkers, under one president and one God.

- David Stein

Im all for diverse political thinking...actually I probably will begin to root for Dems in upcoming elections in order to return to a balanced, healthy two party system.


BUT!!!...

I want diversity WITHOUT the radical '60's liberal movement...I want a Democratic party strong on national defence and commited to the war on Islamofacism (dont have to support Iraq)

Was the country suffering from a lack of diversity in the 40's because not enough people opposed the war against Facism and Japanese Imperialism?
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Old 12-07-04, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Tommy Ceez
Im all for diverse political thinking...actually I probably will begin to root for Dems in upcoming elections in order to return to a balanced, healthy two party system.


BUT!!!...

I want diversity WITHOUT the radical '60's liberal movement...I want a Democratic party strong on national defence and commited to the war on Islamofacism (dont have to support Iraq)

Was the country suffering from a lack of diversity in the 40's because not enough people opposed the war against Facism and Japanese Imperialism?
So you want an opposition that conforms to your idea of what positions that opposition should take. Okay then.
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Old 12-07-04, 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Tommy Ceez
I want diversity WITHOUT the radical '60's liberal movement...I want a Democratic party strong on national defence and commited to the war on Islamofacism (dont have to support Iraq)
No one can credibly claim that the Democratic party was is soft on defense. In fact, Kerry's bid was hurt by his inability to distinguish his proposals from Bush's - he intended to do exactly what Bush is doing. There is no disagreement on this issue.

And it's not just that - people (mostly conservatives) also assert that the Democratic party needs to "return to center" by becoming less pro-gay, more pro-religion, less anti-gun, etc. In short, most seem to want the Democratic party to become the Republican party - maybe "Republicans lite."

I do see a need for the Democratic party to change, but in the opposite direction - it needs to become a little more radical. It's become a bland mishmash of non-stances on many issues. It needs to take novel, hard-line stances that people really feel and support.

For instance: Neither party currently supports American workers. Both cater to large corporations - which, today, pay almost no federal taxes, have very few employment restrictions, and outsource at will (with tax breaks, even.) This has hurt the American economy, since it served as the breeding grounds for Enron, and has <i>hugely</i> hurt the American people, who contribute more "productivity" for lower wages and crappy lifestyles. If the Democratic party came out strongly for the "working man" - not just blue-collar laborers but white-collar professionals - it might see a surprising boost of support.

- David Stein

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Old 12-07-04, 03:37 PM
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I do see a need for the Democratic party to change, but in the opposite direction - it needs to become a little more radical. It's become a bland mishmash of non-stances on many issues. It needs to take novel, hard-line stances that people really feel and support.
Well, you certainly won my vote for the next DNC chairman, although, it would be hard to imagine anyone better for conservatives than McAuliffe.
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Old 12-07-04, 03:44 PM
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whateva

Soros couldn't even <b>buy</b> the election for Thurston & Lovey. <i>Misunderestimation</i> is a dangerous thing.
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Old 12-09-04, 08:14 PM
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The naive optimism in this article is really unbelievable. That so many can't see where this is all leading to is simply astounding.

Of course, Bush defies conventional wisdom. Anti-social, psychopaths generally do.
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Old 12-09-04, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by shifrbv
The naive optimism in this article is really unbelievable. That so many can't see where this is all leading to is simply astounding.

Of course, Bush defies conventional wisdom. Anti-social, psychopaths generally do.


When is the bottom so supposed to fall out again? I know you posted it before, but I don't remember.
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Old 12-10-04, 06:33 AM
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Originally Posted by sfsdfd
Yeah, screw this "diversity" thing, and having a range of opinions. We'll be so much happier when we're a nation of identical thinkers, under one president and one God.

- David Stein

Careful Dave...you're starting to sound like the Left wing nutcase who lives on the same coin but opposite side of the Right wing nutcase. Why don't you just go shiv some conservatives and Christian folk in your local IHOP parking lot and get it out of your system.

Last edited by Giantrobo; 12-10-04 at 06:36 AM.
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