Monday, March 26, 2007

Accentuating Weakness

There is something terribly (in the original sense of the word) instructive in Robert Novak's column today about how alone President Bush is. The gist is that Republicans in Congress and Bush have abandoned each other, and those in the House and Senate view the president and his administration as incompetent.

Bush's management style has gotten much press since he took office, but as usual, nuance doesn't have much place. Detractors see him as stubborn beyond reason, arrogant, and more interested in loyalty than merit. Supporters (there used to be a lot more) talk of resolve, decisiveness, and underlying moral grounding.

What most of us hate to consider is that all of these things are true, and that what we want changes. After 9/11 we wanted resolve and even a small degree of arrogance, if that translated as moral clarity in the face of international bureaucratic instinct.

But with any person, you get the bad with the good, even if the bad isn't recognized until later. The problem with a person like Bill Clinton was that (partially because of his knowledge and intellect) he could be indecisive and unclear in his beliefs. America reacted in part to this and elected someone who they believed knew who he was and where he stood.

That kind of person is great to have when he's right, because you know he'll stick to his guns. But he can be a disaster when he's wrong.

Adding to the mess in Bush's case is that his belief system seems an odd combination of born-again Christian faith mixed with intense interpersonal relationships, manifesting most commonly in expectation of fierce personal loyalty above all.

Note that neither of these demand a lot by way of hard facts. Bush has been described in State of Denial and other places as managing by painting a big picture and then expecting his loyal underlings and advisors to take care of the details. As my friend James March has mentioned, having a grand strategy involves, well, strategy (and tactics and details), and for Bush, the vacuum he's left has left those details to have been filled in by Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, his advisors who have been most aggressive in their views.

Traits like stubbornness and arrogance can be acceptable in politicians. Most every great historical figure had glaring personal weaknesses, and we shouldn't expect perfection. What we should expect is for the opinions affected by such traits to be mined from fact, and trained by the unfolding reality of events, as much as possible. That's something we don't have now.


Dakota said...

Bush's current isolation from his party in Congress is all the more remarkable because until the election, the White House was the biggest player on Capitol Hill by far. The Bush team's downfall was not just being arrogant, or their irrational resistance to changing their minds in the face of changed circumstances, but that they confused winning support and winning submission. Generally they sought the latter rather the former, and the result was tremendous resentment, even among those who should have been his friends. It's a huge political MO error, and I am not sure they will recover because -- again -- Bush and his team are irrationally resistant to change.

Polaris said...

You indirectly bring up something I should've added to the posting, and will put into the next one.