C-Span’s interview on Monday showcased a relaxed president with no challenges from the interviewer with respect to facts about the war or domestic policies. At his best in such circumstances Bush was able to convey a man in command without the bumbling that so often infuses his message when he has to speak in public on matters of substance.
Nevertheless, there were revelatory moments that helped define the operational underpinnings of this president in that vague, expansive way he has of sweeping past pressing issues into generalizations. When asked by the interviewer how he might have changed since coming to Washington, Mr. Bush responded that he hadn’t changed really; he still possessed the same principles he had when he first arrived. Looking past the obvious, an interviewer might have hoped the president would have reflected that he had become increasingly aware of how important his job was, how grave the world situation has become, how deeply he felt the responsibility for making the right decisions to protect the people of America – – almost anything that would have indicated some intellectual depth and concern for conditions in the country and around the world.
And when asked how his administration might be described by party members in the way some Republicans call themselves Reagan or Goldwater Republicans the president had a little fit of giggling saying those affiliations were pretty much a thing of the past – – something that many in his party would find dismissive and insulting since a fair number of conservatives talk about themselves in just that way. But, more specifically with regard to his self analysis and how his presidential agenda will be defined in the future he reiterated his catchall phrase – – “compassionate conservatism.” Most telling in this regard, however, was the clarity of how that term reflects his administration’s view of government’s role in our society. That is – – government should help the private sector pursue compassionate goals e.g. faith-based initiatives. Unsaid of course is that helping the “private sector” might as easily have been said to be helping the “corporate sector”.
Unaccustomed as many of us are to this image of a warm, fuzzy President Bush, no doubt his supporters in the past and those who remain see him in that light and consider him a moral guy who has had to make tough decisions. And for those who oppose this vision we are directed to the Clinton administration at whose door blame for anything that has gone or continues to go wrong may be placed. Clinton wrecked the military, one hears it said sometimes, because he failed to beef up a peace-time force, never imagining perhaps that we would risk starting a foolish pre-emptive ground war where our forces would be stretched beyond all reasonable limits. One can only wonder how the Bush administration could take on such an unwelcome burden if they truly felt they had been left with a legacy of insufficient armaments and personnel.
But beyond the war itself this government’s compassion is not always evident. It may be that conservative Republicans see government only as a military defense instrument, not as helpmate to the poor and underprivileged and certainly not as a re-distributor of wealth; but they are stuck with those nasty holdovers from FDR that strain the budget and keep them from advancing their primary agenda. In the past they often claimed to be the party of “law and order”, a concept not heard all that often of late. Out of the budget came the funds Clinton provided for 100,000 law enforcement personnel in localities of need, a program often cited as helping to reduce crime rates across the nation – – rates that are said to be rising once again.
And in the president’s latest budget, massive new expenditures for expanding the military are included alongside cuts in domestic programs like Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, while this administration accuses those who oppose the war in Iraq and dispute the rationale for sending more troops into harm’s way of not supporting the troops, the new budget is a disturbing exercise in hypocrisy. Despite huge casualty rates and the prospect of long-term care needs, funds for “specialized VA health care programs” have not been funded at sufficiently high-levels. Further, revenues (an estimated $492 million) – – generated from increased prescription drug co-pay and enrollment fees are to be transferred to the Treasury rather than re-invested in VA services as in the past thus compounding what are probably underestimates of future costs for treating returning vets. (www.prnewswire.com 2/10/07) And these are but a few examples of the sad reversals our military will suffer from a White House that sent them into battle and claims to honor their sacrifice.
The president at his ease during the C-Span interview was a vision of someone who has foundered on the way to becoming an adult, someone who dwells irrationally in the corners of his mind on a shared similarity with President Truman – – a man who did indeed make difficult decisions but who also understood the consequences of his actions and appreciated the fact that ‘the buck stopped at his desk’, something this president has yet to fully comprehend.

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