The Great Ranger and His Lone Mistake

Remember the press conference when El Supreme Presidente was asked if he had made any mistakes during his time in the White House? Boy George was stumped. He tried. He stammered and stuttered around for a long moment, then confessed he couldn’t think of any.

Oh, boy! Everyone in the TV audience must have felt like the overeager kid in the classroom, waving his hand and saying, "I know! I know! Call on me, I know!" But George didn’t know, couldn’t think of a single mistake he had made as president. The dunce.

I remember hearing Bush speak when he was still Gov. Bush of Texas, campaigning for President of the United States. It was two weeks before the New Hampshire primary in 2000 and Bush, the former managing partner of the Texas Rangers, was the keynote speaker at the annual baseball dinner in Manchester, NH. (The main attraction was the failing Ted Williams, who was wheeled in at the end to make a few remarks.) There, Bush acknowledged that his biggest mistake was trading Sammy Sosa, who went on to become a legendary slugger (66 home runs in one year) with the Chicago Cubs.

I wonder if, after all the blunders he has made as president, Bush still thinks of the Sosa trade as his biggest, or perhaps his only, mistake. He just can’t admit that invading and occupying Iraq was a mistake. His only hope for a "legacy," one that will only be recognized long after he is gone, is that democracy and freedom will take root in the Middle East. Other than that, what has he got? The No Child Left Behind Act? The prescription drug benefit that constitutes the largest expansion of LBJ’s Medicare program? This is not the stuff of which presidential legends are made. There will be no fifth bust on Mt. Rushmore to honor the father of prescription drug benefits and the godfather of No Child Left Behind. But perhaps there will be a new pyramid somewhere in a Middle East desert to honor the prosecutor of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I think what we see is "The Peter Principle" at work here. Do you remember when that book and its author were all the rage? At last someone had documented what we all knew intuitively: people get promoted to their level of incompetence. As soon as someone is seen to be doing a perfectly competent job at one level, he or she (in the late Sixties, it was still mainly "he") gets promoted to a higher level, where he does not perform nearly as well. The book, as I recall from all the talk about it (I don’t believe I ever read it), was mainly about the business world, but we can see the same principle at work in politics.

Yes, of course. Jack Kennedy was perfect as playboy senator, but seemed at times over his head in the White House. Lyndon Johnson was a great Senate Majority Leader, but with huge majorities on his side in both houses of Congress and no one to veto his excesses when he was president, Johnson was finally done in by his own overreaching ambition. Henry Kissinger was no doubt an excellent Harvard professor. Douglas MacArthur always thought Dwight David Eisenhower made "a damn fine secretary." They were all, arguably, promoted beyond their respective levels of competence.

Now, I believe that George W. Bush was, despite the Sosa trade, a reasonably competent owner of a major league baseball team. But if he had to be promoted to his level of incompetence, wouldn’t the nation have been better served if he had been made commissioner of baseball? I believe baseball is such a great game that even Bush couldn’t ruin it. I wish I were as confident about our country.

Now it is certainly possible that in the 21st Century, the vast powers of the president of the United States are beyond the competence of any mere mortal to wield effectively. By effectively, I mean defending freedom, promoting peace, facilitating prosperity, the kind of thing the bumbling, inarticulate Eisenhower managed to do fairly well, even if he did appear at times over his head at the apex of American politics. Perhaps that’s why Augustus Georgie, Caesar of the Americas, needs to claim plenipotentiary power and to imply his wisdom and knowledge exceed that of Solomon.

Thus, he claims the power to identify an "enemy combatant," who, therefore, may be deprived, even if a U.S. citizen, of the right to trial, to confront his accusers, to make bail, to the assistance of counsel or any of the other "due process" rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Thus our Caesar also claims the right to listen in on your overseas conversations without a warrant, despite a statute that specifically requires a warrant and a provision in the Bill of Rights (See Amendment IV, George) barring unreasonable searches. Yes, friends we have a greater than Solomon with us now.

And, of course, whenever things go wrong, it’s not George’s fault. He was not aware of it, was not informed of it, there was faulty "intelligence," it’s not his job. But he will acknowledge, or at least he used to, one mistake.

He traded Sammy Sosa.

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.