It seems that whenever I reveal my politics to a new friend, particularly if that friend is gay, he immediately asks if I like the president. And sometimes when I offer my qualified support of Bush, some readily accuse me of being a Bush apologist. But, those who read this blog know that while we have frequently defended the nation’s 43rd* Chief Executive, we have from time to time taken issue with him. As I wrote last year:
Perhaps, we spend so much time defending the president because his critics, particularly those on the gay left, make such outlandish (and very often inaccurate) accusations against him.
In that very post, when we graded the president on the Reagan legacy, we only gave him a B/B-.
Now, with the Administration’s clumsy handling of firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys, government appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, we see once again one of the president’s biggest problem — his failure to consider how issues play out in the media. I would argue that his second biggest problem is his excessive loyalty to his appointees.
Then-president Clinton didn’t catch nearly as much flack back in 1993 when his newly-appointed Attorney General Janet Reno fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys, an unprecedented act. Before then, a new president only dismissed the attorneys appointed by his predecessor after he found individuals to replace them.
The president and his team at the Justice Department should have been better prepared for the media firestorm that was bound to ensue, given that, unlike Clinton in 1993, the incumbent’s party no longer controls Congress and given the media’s generally critical attitudes toward this Administration.
This is not the first time the president has failed to anticipate the media outcry against his policies. That he kept the defensive Scott McClellan on as press secretary for nearly three years suggests that he was not interested in standing up to a media which became increasingly aggressive and antagonistic as the president’s post-9/11 glow started to fade in 2002 and 2003.
When the Dems first started saying Bush lied to get us into war, they should have been slammed hard and fast with the facts. When Murtha first talked about “redeploying” it was a shock but the administration let it slide until the public got used to the idea through unchallenged repetition. When the post-Katrina accusations of racism were thrown around, the outrage over such a slander should have been immediate.
Just look at how the Administration handled Joe Wilson’s lies. Instead of having the press secretary come forth rebutting that Democrat’s claims point by point (as the Senate Intelligence Committee would do more than year later), Administration officials worked behind the scenes to discredit that dishonest man.
But, it’s not just P.R. where the president has failed. He has also failed to adequately supervise some of his appointees. If they failed to produce results, he should have asked them to step down. When terrorists bombed the Golden Mosque in February 2006, he should have realized that we needed a new strategy in Iraq and replaced then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Had he done so, he may have saved Congress for the GOP — or at least limited the losses.)
We are already seeing numerous signs of success of the president’s new strategy. Imagine where we might be in Iraq had we shifted tactics a year ago. (And a year ago, he would not have to deal with a Congress eager to condemn his policies in order to please their base.)
There are many other issues on which to fault the president, particularly his failure to hold the line on domestic/discretionary spending, but the president would have surely improved his standing with the American people had his team been more attentive to improving his image. And to putting forward its message, particularly on the war in Iraq, at regular intervals to the American people.
While I think that, on the whole, the George W. Bush has done a pretty decent job as president, he — and his team — have been ill-equipped to deal with a media out to portray his Administration in the worst possible light. And for that reason, more often than not, we have defended him. But, it’s not just the media who have caused his Administration to suffer. The president is also responsible. He has been too loyal to his appointees, trusting them to fulfill their responsibilities often without verifying to see if the results of their efforts meet his expectations.
When historians look back at this Administration, I think they’ll give it decent marks, but they’ll wonder why the president failed to stand up to an antagonistic media — and to his own appointees.
*well, technically the 42nd since Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms.