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This Would Be Hilarious If He Weren't Serious

Perhaps I have underestimated Michael Gerson.  Maybe he isn’t the horrifyingly sycophantic Bush lackey we have all believed him to be, but a Stephen Colbert-like parodist who is so deliberately excessive in his love for Mr. Bush that it can only be part of an elaborate comic performance.  All along we have been thinking that he is a shameless panegyrist for the emperor, but maybe he is actually the court jester satirizing the master’s flaws.  Except for madness, satire seems the most reasonable explanation for his last column. 

Then again, there really isn’t anything funny about this:

But the largest figure revealed in the light of the financial crisis has been President Bush. 

If by “largest figure,” he means largest failure, he’ll get no argument here.  Otherwise, it is hard to know what to make of his celebration of President MIA.  He continues: 

Americans may be tired of strategic boldness, but Bush clearly is not. When Paulson and Bernanke came to the president in mid-September, warning of an imminent financial meltdown, Bush’s reaction was typical. He told Paulson not to worry about the politics and to propose whatever was economically necessary. It would have been easier for the administration to produce symbolic, easily passable legislation. Bush chose to go to the root of the problem — toxic debt in the financial system. The plan was not perfect and was later improved. But charges that it is somehow timid or irrelevant are absurd. Seven hundred billion dollars amounts to about 5 percent of all mortgage debt in America — about one-third of all subprime debt.

Obviously, Gerson’s reaction to Bush’s typical reaction is very typical.  Boldness, daring, action–these are the things that Gerson finds admirable in political leaders, particularly when they are unfettered by anything so pedestrian and small as prudence, intelligence or practicality.  Strategic boldness, not coherence or rationality, is what matters.  This is the same kind of boldness that removed the main counterweight to Iranian influence in the Near East, turned Lebanon into a ruin, and led to the trampling of Georgia, the loss of American reputation and significant damage to national interests.  Virtually everything Mr. Bush has touched has turned to ash, but no one can deny that he has been boldly setting fire to things.  

Why worry that the President and his officials approached an explosive political situation with all the finesse of a sledgehammer?  Who cares that he essentially abdicated his leadership role and watched as his over-eager Treasury Secretary twisted in the winds of Congressional scorn and public outrage?  Throwing subordinates to the wolves or using them as shields to deflect criticism from himself has become something of a common remedy for Mr. Bush’s magnificent failures of leadership, of which there have been so many that virtually everyone recognizes that he possesses no moral or political authority worth mentioning, but rarely have we seen such an impressive ballet of political malpractice from this crowd.

But his instincts are good, you see:   

Bush’s ambition, bias toward action and indifference to political pressure are sometimes criticized. But his greatest failures — such as the Katrina response and the initial strategy of the Iraq counterinsurgency campaign — have come when he ignored those instincts.

This is clearly nonsense.  His indifference to political pressure was central to his bungling in the wake of Katrina, just as it had been at the root of his cronyist appointments that contributed directly to the problems with the federal response.  His obsession with loyalty and rewarding loyalists, which has trumped questions of competence so many times that we have lost count, was at the heart of the Katrina debacle.  His indifference to political pressure ensured that he resisted the dramatic changes in public opinion following his re-election, as he insisted on pressing ahead and expressing his full confidence in Rumsfeld and the tactics being used throughout 2005-06 just as he had ignored pleas for change in the two years before that.  Gerson is not only delusional about Bush’s role in the last few weeks, but he has invented an entirely new past to justify this latest delusion, which resembles neocon complaints that the problems in Iraq were a function of insufficient aggressiveness and a refusal to widen the war to the entire region. 

More hallucinations follow: 

The troop surge resulted when he followed them. And Bush’s economic ideology — a belief in markets, combined with a recognition that intervention is sometimes necessary to make markets work — seems well suited to the current crisis.

The “surge” was a concession to political reality.  It was not the concession that the establishment or the public wanted–in this way Bush’s stubbornness reasserted itself yet again–but it was an acknowledgement that his previous indifference to public opinion had been misguided.  Of course, the Paulson plan represented a belief in state capitalism that government policy should serve financial interests at public expense, which I suppose is consistent with Mr. Bush’s preferences for cronyism and serving corporate interests.  It is, of course, exactly the wrong thing for the country at this time, which goes to the heart of why the bailout is so pernicious.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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