Oh Shrubbery, My Shrubbery: Six Months of Dubya
As a prelude, allow me to state that President Bush kissed my daughter. Like all Texans, he was a proper Southern gentleman about it. She was five months old at the time, and her mother was holding her, when he kissed her on the head at a campaign stop in Erie, Pennsylvania. I shook his hand, and wished him good luck. On a personal level, I have nothing against George W. Bush.
On a political level, I voted for Harry Browne. By the way, my vote did not count. Not only did Harry Browne not come close to winning the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (he had maybe 2% of the vote), my vote did not cost George Bush Pennsylvania's electoral votes. My one vote, had it gone to Bush instead of Browne, would have caused Bush to lose by 10,000 instead of 10,001. For that matter, I could have skipped voting and gone to work, but it was a nice walk to the polling place on a sunny morning with a light breeze.
Many commentators commented (that is what commentators do, after all) on Bush's "First 100 Days." In case anyone was not obsessing about every day and everything done on that day by Bush, the Democratic National Committee — that bastion of toleration, diversity, and high-IQ's — has established a web site, complete with a picture (see the far right — hey, was that an accident? — of the photo bar at the top of the page) of Bush resembling an ape of some kind. Either that, or he was imitating Marlon Brando's scene from Godfather where Brando stuffed the orange peel into his mouth.
At any rate, Bush's "First 100 Days" were up on April 17. It is now early August — almost four months after those first 100 days expired — and so Bush's potential greatness has had nearly 100 more days to manifest itself. Papers are now filled with reflections on Bush's first six months. And you thought sports broadcasts came up with ludicrous statistics. Like 100 days, six months is an utterly arbitrary figure for evaluating presidential performance.
To be fair, Bush may be like Abraham Lincoln. No, not in the "call out the troops to smash my opposition" way, but in the way that we should perhaps consider that what Bush says does not mean he will not reverse himself 180 degrees at some point in the future. Harry Jaffa, confronting Abe Lincoln's statement that "I am not now, nor ever have been, in favor of equality between the races," astutely points out — as perhaps only a student of the American presidency can — that Lincoln never said he wouldn't favor racial equality at some time in the future.
That's a hell of an out.
In other words, George Bush the First is off the hook. Although he said "No new taxes," he didn't say that he wouldn't change his mind. What was everyone so angry about? And Franklin "No foreign wars if I'm reelected" Roosevelt? Hey, it's a president's prerogative.
So you see, politicians do not lie, they just perhaps fail to give a full and complete statement of everything the might conceivably do in the future. (And here you thought that Bill Clinton was somehow unique in his capacity for deception).
So, at any rate, there are two ways to judge presidential greatness: the standard 100 days method, or the Jaffa method: "I mean exactly the opposite of what I am saying," or, rather, "Pay more attention to what I am not saying than to what I am saying." On Jaffa's view, no matter what Bush is doing or saying now, we must reserve the right to redefine such actions in the future based on what Bush has not expressly precluded.
In that regard, another report card of sorts on President Bush is making the rounds. As MSNBC reports, President Bush is going home to Texas with "Big Mo." "Mo" as in "momentum," and not as in Missouri (which is Mizzou, anyway).
An analysis of what is considered "victory" for Republicans is instructive. MSNBC notes that
Bush issued a statement calling the Senate's approval of $5.5 billion in farm aid — $2 billion less than the Democrats wanted — "a victory for our nation's farmers at a time when they need it most." Although the Democrats have the majority in the Senate, they could not round up enough votes to stop a Republican filibuster that effectively killed their farm bill. Coming in the wake of Bush's wins in House votes to ban human cloning, pass the Bush-backed energy bill and enact a patients rights compromise that he supported, Friday's Senate vote was a sweet ending to a triumphal week for the president.
As has been often said, the only difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans want to spend 10 cents less on Democratic programs than the Democrats would like to spend. And what do you know — this is shown in the case of farm aid. What a rallying cry: "We spent less than you wanted to!" With friends like this, liberty and sound economics need no enemies.
Similarly, the phantom tax cut is hailed as a Bush "accomplishment." Ignore, for the moment, that these cuts are in the future — and that no Congress can bind a future Congress. Ignore as well that the estate tax, allegedly "repealed," is back in 2011.
More importantly how is signing a bill passed by Congress a presidential "accomplishment?" What exactly does Bush get praise? Apparently, for not vetoing the tax cut. Well, you might argue, Bush fulminated at Congress to get the House and Senate to pass the tax cut that he wanted, not one that they wanted. Even so, they are the ones that did it.
In the era of the managerial — and imperial — presidency, it is so much easier for the media and for those too lazy to do their duties as citizens to focus on one man, the President, rather than upon the 435 or so men who make up the House and Senate. It would be oh so complicated if, rather than rating the "first 100 days" or the "first six months" of a president, the media had to rate the Congress as well.
In that regard, consider how much coverage is devoted to a baseball team by, say, ESPN, and to the individual players on the team, versus how much coverage the mainstream media devotes to the Congress and its individual members. Although many Americans can no doubt name many, if not all, of the players on their favorite baseball or football teams, how many know the names of their own Congressmen, let alone the Congressmen from other districts in their state or — shudder — from other states?
How many have noticed that the media darling, John McCain, who sought the Republican nomination for president, has spent most of his time in the present Congress allying himself with Joe Lieberman — the Democratic vice-presidential candidate? Say, was the media hoping to have McCain — a stealth Gore — elected?
On the downside, consider that President Bush has discussed strengthening the abominable ADA, has proposed granting citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants (whose concept of American citizenship, in many cases, is of receiving goodies from Uncle Sam), has pursued an expensive and ill-advised missile defense plan, has not withdrawn American troops from the Persian Gulf or from what's left of Yugoslavia, and has neither shaped up the Bureau of Indian Affairs nor dropped the various anti-Second Amendment lawsuits instituted under President Clinton.
Of course, a man can only do so much — even when it is within his constitutional authority — in 100 days or six months. Despite this fact, and despite the successful stand on the anti-human Kyoto treaty on "global warming," and his refusal to listen to the war hawks over China, I would give Bush a C+ or a B-. He has done some good things, and he has done some bad things. The focus, however, should not be on Bush alone. The Congress, if it is to operate as it was designed in the Constitution, must be scrutinized as well.
The first six months of President Dubya have come and gone. Rather than reveal anything deep about the president, the media coverage of his first 100 days, and his first six months, reveals only that the media continues to salivate over the president as if he were a king, rather than a constitutionally-limited executor of the legislation passed by Congress.
August 6, 2001
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman