Ross Douthat's New York Times column has already drawn some criticism for giving President Bush credit for acting to fix catastrophes he created and for its concluding suggestion that Bush was a good president. But there's another problem: in his desire to defend Bush, Douthat offers a strawman version of one of the central criticisms of Bush:
And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it's worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency - that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.
In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war's cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody - right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street - was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.
I don't really think one of the major critiques of Bush's presidency is that it was "fatally insulated" from "the wisdom of the Washington elite." When is the last time you heard someone say "If only George W. Bush had listened to Tom "Suck on This" Friedman?" Or "Why, oh, why, didn't Bush listen to Richard Cohen's and Jonathan Alter's pleas for torture?"
No: One of the major critiques is that Bush was insulated from opposing viewpoints. And, of course, those opposing viewpoints generally turned out to be correct.
The Washington elite, as Douthat notes, generally went along with Bush administration schemes like unnecessary and unpaid-for tax cuts and wars. Douthat seems to think that undermines the criticism that Bush was insulated from those who disagreed with him and deaf to opposing (and better-considered) views. It doesn't; it merely demonstrates that Bush was not alone in that flaw -- he was joined by, among others, many of the journalists who make up the Washington elite.
Given that Bush is gone and that Washington elite is still here, Douthat would have done far better to examine why the Tom Friedmans and Richard Cohens of the world were in such agreement with Bush than to use their agreement to absolve Bush. Or why the Washington elite is so quick to bless right-wing policies. Or why, despite that, the Washington elite persists in thinking they are insufficiently solicitous of conservative viewpoints.
For weeks, the punditocracy -- Chris Matthews and Jonathan Alter come immediately to mind -- have been saying liberals are foolish for insisting on the inclusion of a public plan in health care reform. Liberals, they say, are letting the perfect* be the enemy of the good, and risk getting nothing by insisting on everything*.
Well, here's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, via today's Wall Street Journal:
Sen. Charles Grassley signaled growing skepticism about the likelihood of Democrat-led health-care legislation passing this year, telling a town-hall meeting here Monday, "Now is the time to do this right or not do it."
In an interview, he vowed not to vote for an "imperfect bill" that includes a public option or gives the government too much control over end-of-life issues.
I wonder if we'll see the same amount of media hand-wringing over Grassley's refusal to vote for what he considers an "imperfect bill." Will he be denounced for being willing to do nothing at all rather than something he considers imperfect? Will he be portrayed as stubborn and unyielding and reckless?
* Never mind that the public option is, for many liberals, neither "perfect" nor "everything," but a huge concession to the Right -- it isn't single-payer.
From the August 6 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
Loading the player ...
Loading the player ...
After Chuck Todd acknowledged a media double standard in coverage of Sen. John McCain's Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe, CNBC's John Harwood asserted on Morning Joe: "I think that at the end of the day, John McCain has got sufficient credibility on that issue that people are not going to look at that and say, 'Oh, John McCain is confused' or 'John McCain's too old' or 'John McCain doesn't get it.' ... But he obviously can't do that too many times or he's got a problem." Harwood was not alone in misrepresenting or excusing McCain's false claim on MSNBC; several MSNBC reporters and anchors have ignored or excused McCain's false claim.
Referencing an interview former President Bill Clinton gave on PBS' The Charlie Rose Show, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote, "During a December taping with PBS's Charlie Rose, a frustrated Clinton called [Sen. Barack] Obama 'a roll of the dice,' as aides tried to end the interview." However, Alter omitted Rose's on-air comments in which he indicated why Clinton's aides wanted to "end the interview."
On Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Jonathan Alter falsely asserted that Sen. Hillary Clinton's "chief strategist" was among the "Clinton surrogates" who have "raised these drug issues" about Sen. Barack Obama. In fact, during a December 13 appearance on Hardball, Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn did not bring up Obama's drug use -- the entire segment was devoted to controversial comments about Obama's past drug use by then-Clinton campaign co-chair Billy Shaheen.
NBC's Jonathan Alter falsely suggested that Republican Peter Roskam and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois' 6th District, have "a similar view of the war" in Iraq. But Chicago newspapers have reported that Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs in combat, and Roskam, who recently accused Duckworth of favoring a "cut and run" strategy in Iraq, are "worlds apart" on Iraq.
On Hardball, Chris Matthews stated that if Democratic critics recognize that President Bush made a "smart decision" to invade Iraq, then Bush "deserves to have a place in history" because "[y]ou can't say he did the right thing but he didn't quite do it right."
On MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is not "the frontrunner" because she has "more baggage than Paris Hilton in the Riviera." Alter instead touted two potential Republican candidates -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain.