Friday, January 21, 2005

It's Good For The Gander

It's outsourcing week at TIA. After my double-dip at Legal Fiction on Thursday (triple-dip if you throw in my short homage to Armitage - excuse the bad rhyme), I've developed a condition that cutting edge medical research has labeled blogging jetlag. Who knew that interblog travel would be this tiring?

I was planning on providing a Part II to my Seymour Hersh coverage, that would have focused on the covert ops angle of the story (as opposed to the Iran topics discussed in Part I) but I don't really have the time today. Besides, Tim from Good Names Gone has a post which tackles some of the important aspects of the infighting over who gets to run the covert ops show (complete with many helpful links), and Kevin Drum is on the case as well in his usual timely fashion. Coincidentally, both Tim and Kevin found their way to the same worthwhile article from the Spring 2004 edition of Foreign Affairs by Jennifer Kibbe (a must read).

So in my harried condition, it is much to my delight that Jonny from Crush All Boxes! (who is on temporary hiatus) has come to the rescue with a witty little rant on Bush's performance at the inauguration. Hey, if Legal Fiction can outsource, so can TIA. Don't get all protectionist on me now folks....

Woodrow W. Bush

Thank you Mister Bush. Now we move on to the Swimsuit competition....

To be fair to President Bush, an inaugural speech is a relatively pro forma affair (compared to, say, a State of the Union speech, one of which we will be graced with shortly). Few inaugural speeches have been really memorable, and despite what the spinners are poofing up, this one won't be either. You get the feeling that Bush and his guys decide on one key word or phrase for each of Bush's 'big gigs': today's 'freedom and liberty' are yesterday's 'hard work.' But an Inaugural is obviously not routine, either. So this speech must have meant something, right? But what?

It's always puzzled me that Richard Nixon was said to have particularly admired, of all Presidents, Woodrow Wilson (and even - purportedly - had a portrait of him in his Oval office). Nixon was rather more 'internationalist' and certainly more cynical, and/or 'realist', than Wilson ever dreamed of being (at least on purpose). Margaret MacMillan's excellent survey of the post-World War One negotiations, Paris 1919 , is replete with examples of Wilson's maddening combination of naivete, idealism, vagueness, peevishness, sanctimony, and plain stubbornness - and the unfortunate fallout therefrom. Take away Wilson's erudition and accomplishment, and that sounds less like Nixon and more like a certain contestant number 43....

America's idealism is both our curse and our gift. We haven't yet found a reliable way to be both idealistic and realistic (AKA 'wise') - it's that damned 'innocence' which keeps coming back no matter how many times we lose it! So we've had to make do with being awful and wonderful by turns. Even Nixon was able to project both qualities: his blackhearted policies in, among others, S.E. Asia and Latin America, are only a small part of his (and Kissinger's) shocking awfulness. But Nixon will and should be long-revered for going to China no matter why he did it. Good and bad. We muddle and blunder our way through history.

So, checks, balances and systems notwithstanding, leadership really does come down to....rather than 'character,' I would say personality, because character is a part of personality. Character might be what a person does when his back is absolutely against the wall; personality is that, plus experience, native intelligence, education, and subsequent proclivities and habits over a lifetime. Populism finds a certain comfort in the idea that a perfectly mediocre (as opposed to ordinary) person can lead - a dark side of democracy, pace DeTocqueville, et. al. This idea has not served us well in our post-war season of supremacy; willing or not, we haven't had the option of being a mediocre nation in the last 70 years. Mr Bush is the apotheosis of the negative meaning of that old saw: ANYONE can grow up to be President. He may be the last of a breed. We may, in our decline, find that we can't afford to 'wing it' this way anymore.

But, back to the speech.

What The Speech Didn't Mean

- Frum and Shrum were on MSNBC together Thursday night. David Frum tried to palm off the idea that the speech was, at least partially, a 'message' to our dictatorial allies in the Muslim world. I'm paraphrasing, but this is close: 'We won't invade you, or anything hard, guys are on notice! Shape up!'. (Frum wrote the 'Axis of Evil' speech). Bob Shrum wasn't having any of it, and wedged in a retort (this was Chris Matthews' show!), saying, roughly: "Yeah, and tomorrow guys from the Carlisle Group will call the Saudis up and tell them 'it's just talk; don't get upset.'" A slightly cheap shot, but not altogether cheap. The Iraq Invasion was, to put it mildly, a 'message' to the Saudis, but this speech wasn't. Ditto Pakistan and the rest.

- This speech didn't mean unlimited commitment of American troops and money throughout the world forever. Its authors might like it to have meant that, but it didn't - because it couldn't. This speech was obviously crafted with Kennedy's in mind. This administration never passes up a chance to equate the 'war on terror' with the Cold War (and, incidentally, to associate themselves with popular figures of the past, like JFK, TR, etc.). They're very consistent about that. Terror War = Cold War. But, no cigar.

Some Things the Speech Did Mean

- It was a reaching-out to the people of Iran. This Administration knows they need both carrot and stick there, but the carrot happens to be nice and inexpensive: rhetoric. Cheney this morning on Imus (and Sy Hersh) waved the stick; Bush offered the carrot. America stands for freedom! You know you want it! Rise up! Bush is perfectly right, in this context, to send this message. The Neocons have a 'tourist's love' - genuine, in its way - for the Middle Eastern Muslim world. I'd be thrilled and proud if this rhetorical carrot 'worked'. Of course, it won't.

- The speech was an apology to Americans. It was a veiled plea for the American People to recognize that this administration 'means well.' Pat Buchanan couldn't help himself; he finally exploded last night on 'Hardball', declaring once and for all that: 'There is no conservative party in the United States today!' The idea of the folly - indeed the danger - of 'good intentions' is about as basic a tenet of conservative philosophy as there is. Bush offers a glistening, gooey, 'guilt-free', double-fudge liberalism with zero fat and zero carbs - but TONS of sugar. He'll be gone by the time the diabetes sets in.

Elsewhere: Nadezhda has a thought-provoking and intelligent post which takes on some of the issues that Jonny raised in his piece (She being inspired by the recent back and forth between Praktike and Matt Yglesias).

In the interest of balance, Greg Djerejian has a slightly different take on the speech, but one of his readers disagrees.

And in the interest of partisan satire, RJ Eskow imagines Eisenhower and Bush in a duel of speeches, think "Celebrity Death Match: The Presidential Edition" without the claymation, or the violence for that matter (though I suggested to RJ that if we wants to go commercial, he's going to have throw in something for the "extreme" crowd).

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