Every wartime president is hailed as one of the great ones, including Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and now Bush. In polls of presidential "greatness", the former three constantly rank at or near the top. In presidential popularity polls since 9/11, Bush's fashionableness has skyrocketed. The talk is that he is another one certain to “go down in history as one of the great presidents.” Where have we heard that before?
In The President Within, a gushing piece for the WSJ.com Opinion Journal, Peggy Noonan — the articulate and sometimes interesting neoconservative journalist — tells us that George W. has “found the president within.” In essence, she tells us, he is the next Harry Truman.
What are Bush's Trumanesque qualities according to Ms. Noonan? They are qualities that she can relate to warmaking: love of country; doing tough things at a terrible time; standing for freedom; rallying the citizens for war; rooting out weapons of destruction in the hands of rouge nations; and keeping the American people united behind his cause. This is all sporting stuff to a member of the War Party.
Let's face it: were it not for the terrorist attacks and the ensuing war, Bush would be a political fly on the Republican elephant's ass. Though somewhat likeable with his mannerisms and his lack of Clinton's baby-boomer pretentiousness, George W. is no great one in the making. He lacks any real intellectual prowess, good grammar, and worldly knowledge in general. He was born into his political position and thrust upon the public stage right from the get-go. For a family like the Bushes, the powerful public servant route is incontestable, and being president is a part of the hierarchical duty one assumes after various other high-ranking positions have been ascended to.
Like Truman, Bush emanates a modest demeanor and presents himself as kinfolk to all of us. Down-to-earth and somewhat hackneyed, they both lack the stature and charisma of other Oval Office inhabitants. However, Ms. Noonan finds in Truman a man of wondrous processes:
a go-getter who was determined in pushing through the Marshall Plan to save Europe and getting the money for it from a depleted American public, fighting a land war in Korea. All this when his exhausted nation — we had been through two world wars in 25 years — did not want another war, and needed to be rallied.
So here we have it: coercing the public and enabling government growth are what make a great leader! Ms. Noonan finds even more legend in the war career of Truman. Though he inherited FDR‘s war and got us into another quagmire a few years later, leave it to a neocon to find such greatness in Truman‘s fiascos:
He stopped or thwarted communism wherever he could, fought like a tiger, faced down the most admired American general of the day and canned him for overstepping his bounds, made the crucial and horrific decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and took the responsibility himself to the extent that when the head of the Manhattan Project came to him and said he feared he had blood on his hands, Truman took out his handkerchief and wiped J. Robert Oppenheimer's hands, and said no, I made the decision, the responsibility is mine.
There is no mention by Ms. Noonan — a purported social conservative — of Truman's national health insurance cabal, his call for a more federalized education system, or his New Deal augmentations and the rest of his leftist social agenda. After all, Truman was a dedicated social engineer who also integrated the military and the federal Civil Service, and formed the Civil Rights Commission.
Then there was the celebrated Truman Fair Deal. This was his domestic agenda, which proposed the expansion of FDR's Social Security system, a full-employment program, an increase in the minimum wage, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act. The Fair Deal, Truman wrote, "symbolizes for me my assumption of the office of President in my own right." It was only the hardline Southern Democrats and their Republican allies who, as a last line of defense, managed to keep the worst aspects of the Fair Deal from taking hold.
However, Ms. Noonan completely ignores her own Republican instincts on domestic approach in favor of glorifying a Trumanesque quest for world supremacy. After all, the enlargement of Empire is seen as a virtue in the mainstream; it is the epitome of great leadership. Therefore, one senses that warmaking, cold war hawking, propagandizing the citizenry into supporting war, and destroying foreign States only to turn around and rebuild them are all immaculate acts on the part of the Chief Executive.
Hence, to a neoconservative, the forward thrust of the American Empire and its military machinations is all that matters in the larger sense. Therefore, we should ignore the triviality of domestic policymaking.
Now it is true that Bush is a bit gentler on the eradication of our domestic liberties then would be a guy like McCain, or even a Gore-Lieberman deal. Bush has also exercised spots of restraint where those in his party, and his administration, would prefer a full-scale war on targets to be named later. The choice of Colin Powell as Secretary of State has proven to be the one great neutralizing effect in an otherwise all-out War Party.
However, to cascade onto George W. Bush the title of “great one” is merely a way of linking greatness with the ability to wage conflict and perpetuate the growth of the State. And nowhere is liberty infringed upon more than in times of war, a president's most useful crisis for manipulating power to the advantage of his office and its administrators. From this cause, according to the party apologists, advancing statism — and not adherence to the foundations of this Republic — determines who we are expected to deify as our redeemer.
December 24, 2001
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a freelance writer and graduate student in economics, and works as a business consultant in the Midwest.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster