Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Just a Little Bit . . .

. . . of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Hillary Clinton is offered by Bill Kristol on the pages of today’s New York Times. If the liberal media cannot be depended upon to show her a little, Kristol argues that it falls to conservatives like him to do their job while they get over their crush on Senator Obama. Kristol, clearly, is having fun playing the devil’s advocate but he’s also got a serious point. He extols Clinton’s virtues as a candidate--scrappy and dogged, cunning and patient. Her massive failings have been telling too. In addition to exhibiting a kind of brazen insensitivity to the truth, she’s also shown a kind of chutzpah that could serve a candidate well, given the right electoral conditions. She is Bill Clinton, light . . . and if she fails it will be because of the "light." But if she succeeds (now or in the future) it will be because of the "Bill Clinton" and her willingness to be brazen.

So, it seems to me, that if Kristol’s prediction and assessment is correct and Obama wins the nomination even though Clinton is the stronger candidate, then Peter Lawler should revisit his pessimism over McCain’s chances. I’m willing to bet that my "optimism" (if that’s what it is) may be in need of some checking. So I appreciate Peter’s constant assault on it. But I begin to wonder (and only wonder, I’m not yet asserting) if the war and the controversy surrounding our entering it is fading into a position of background noise in this election. Do people other than vociferous supporters or detractors really think long and hard about it anymore? I think most people realize that the war is what it is and that the time for debating about whether or not we should have invaded is long past. The only question now is whether or not we should retreat. The candidates who seem to advocate retreat are both rather squishy on the point. Only incredibly naive voters really believe that the election of Barack Obama will initiate a precipitous withdrawal of our forces. This is why Obama plays up his initial disapproval of the invasion to the great delight of his young and his ideological supporters; he’d rather talk about the past than the future in this instance. But those of us who remember the thing (because remember, many of Obama’s supporters were too young to now remember it!) and who were not on then on the same ideological train do not now see him as some kind of Cassandra who was possessed of some special wisdom unknowable to the rest of us mere mortals. Instead, I think his original position on the invasion feeds into the perception of him as young, foolish, and vaguely anti-American. His crowing about it now makes him look even more young, more foolish and, worse, entirely self-important. All he’s saying is, "I told you so!" and, as Peter pointed out noting the role of chance in things, that’s a very easy thing to say right now. Too easy.

The frustration with Bush may turn out to help McCain. This is, in part, because I think the general frustration with Bush (not the particular frustration of the Left but the frustration that gives him a 69% disapproval rating) stems from a perception of incompetence in performance more than it does with a real questioning of the decision to invade. I argue this because I think there were two important turning points in public opinion. The first was Fallujah. The second was Katrina. Had either or both of those things gone in a different way (as they well could have done), I think we’d be in a very different position vis a vis public opinion right now. McCain seems to sense this and is running a campaign that touts his competence and, significantly, his toughness. This makes his "competence campaign" very different from that of Michael Dukakis’ similarly themed campaign. That’s because when Michael Dukakis went around talking about how "competent" he while as he sat inside of tank, one had very good reason to believe that his claim was a wish rather than a statement of fact.

In short, it seems to me that if the question boils down to Iraq it will not (except in the minds of those who were also against it in the beginning) boil down further to the question of whether or not we should have invaded in the first place. Don’t forget the massive support the invasion had in its early days. If they openly question the judgment of Bush on that score, the American people also have to question their own. And that won’t really happen as, in fact, it should not. The question will be, "How do we move forward and who do we trust to do the leading?" I have a very hard time believing that, in then end, there will be enough people willing to pull that lever for the junior Senator from Illinois and say he is the man for that job.

Discussions - 3 Comments

We must be living in the end times. I'm seriously pulling for Hillary Clinton over Obama. And, God help me, I am openminded as to backing her over McMoron.

I'll never say never again.

But the Dems don't blurt it out and say "We want to retreat." They say they want to "redeploy." They don't say they want to leave off the war on terror altogether. Though that's what they're planning. They profess they want to "focus" on who our real enemies are. And when they say "focus" they mean law enforcement. They'll never use the word surrender; they'd consider that too vulgar, too stark, too black and white, too Manichean. No, they don't advocate surrender so much as they advocate DIPLOMACY. And of course Republicans are too damn stupid to ask: "What precisely do you mean by diplomacy, what will you have to say that Clinton left unsaid, that the Europeans haven't been saying for over a decade."

If the issue of the war is allowed to be defined as Iraq and nothing but Iraq, we'll lose. But if the war is placed within its proper context, if Iran's role is defined for the American people, if what Syria is doing is spelled out, then the American people won't desire to pull out, they'll desire to get tough. And their anger with Bush will only intensify. But McCain isn't going to do that. I'm not sure he has the ability to do it, even if he had the desire. But maybe he'll bring on a Santorum onto the ticket, and then we'll have some clarity, and some intellectual firepower. But I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

And Julie, it all began in August, 2005, when Bush took his month long vacation in Crawford, while Cindy Sheehan was bashing him by the hour on cable television. And instead of responding, he preferred to go biking and clear brush.

That's when his 2d term began to fully implode.

You could argue that it began when he failed to end Fitzgerald's "investigation" at the commencement of his 2d term.

The Fitzgerald investigation killed off whatever 2d term domestic agenda he had, so much so that The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial pronouncing his 2d term "a bust."

But that didn't trigger the simmering fury with him. That all started with Sheehan, because the President let himself appear uncaring and unfeeling, while Americans were fighting and dying in the field, all to work his vision, his "Bush doctrine." Guys like me were pleading with Senators to prevail upon him to cut his vacation short, to go to Iraq, visit the troops, restore his poll numbers and return with renewed political power to wage his war and enact genuine entitlement reforms.

But he preferred to get his kicks clearing brush, and pissing off those members of the media that were cooped up with him in nowhereville, id est, Crawford, Texas. He enjoyed watching their discomfort in sweltering Crawford. That's one of the more unpleasant aspects about him, his occasional penchant for pettiness.

I remember speaking with some high level Senate staffers pressing upon them the urgency of the moment, {this was late Summer, early Fall, 2005}. And I was shocked to hear that The White House intended to regain the initiative with the State of the Union address in 2006. To my mind that was political insanity. The President needed to act then, not wait for the following year, by which time his political numbers might very well be in free fall, {which they were}. The staffers didn't look too happy with The White House's game plan, which concerned them. And they wholly agreed with me, that the President needed to demonstrate some Presidential attributes. But their superiors were still content to accept dictation from Rove and Bush, even though Rove was clearly distracted by Fitzgerald boring in for the kill. So The White House conceded the political initiative for roughly half a year, {Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec., Jan. and Feb.}, and what occurred during that time was Fitzgerald, Rove, Libby and Armitage.

And there are still some who defend this Bush presidency. And refuse to ponder the brutal fact that his passivity allowed his domestic agenda to be frustrated by a run amok political prosecutor. Which meant he allowed the will of the American people to be foiled by a political gamester. The people gave him an unquestioned mandate, which he blew, because he didn't have the political nerve to crush Fitzgerald, and sic a special prosecutor on him, and to investigate the links between Kerry, Wilson, Fitzgerald and the Democrats.

Some might ask: "Why torture ourselves recalling one political insanity after another?" But only by seeing the past accurately can we forego similar mistakes in the future. Knowing what Bush did wrong, knowing what we did wrong, how we abetted his incompetence and enabled his passivity, only thus will we be able to avoid a repetition of those signal disasters in a McCain presidency. So as painful as this exhumation of the Bush 2d term is, and will become, it must be done. We must steel ourselves for the pain we knowingly inflict upon ourselves, by exhuming this corpse of a 2d term from its tomb, performing a proper post-mortem and correctly identifying the cause of political death.

I feel like I need to throw up just thinking about it. And I'm sure that Frum, Gaffney and Noonan have felt the same.

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