For a commencement address at Furman University in spring 2008, Ed Gillespie wanted to insert a few lines condemning gay marriage. Bush called the speech too "condemnatory" and said, "I'm not going to tell some gay kid in the audience that he can't get married." (Of course, Bush ran his 2004 campaign telling that kid just that.)There are a several points I'd like to make here -- why did Gillespie want the president to raise this issue in a speech to college students? -- but the bizarre thing is Bush's reported unwillingness to speak on behalf of his own policy.
To me, it is evidence of a basic flaw in Republican political thinking Some pollster says 68% of college students favor gay marriage? Majority rules! This is politics as nothing more than a popularity contest.
Thus is statesmanship abandoned in favor of mere pandering. Sound policy is sound policy. One job of a political leader is to persuade the citizenry, to influence their opinions. To do this, one must sometimes go to Kansas and tell the corn farmers that ethanol subsidies are bad policy, or tell college students that their naive notions of "equality" are false.
Such arguments may not be popular, but if you believe what you say --if you are sincerely convinced of the merits of your policy, rather than merely pandering in search of short-term political gain -- your courage in defending an unpopular belief has a persuasive value.
Remember that when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," his words were intensely controversial. Yet Reagan was not pandering. Those who then suffered under communist tyranny, including those imprisoned in the gulag, heard Reagans words and felt that, at last, there was hope -- because Reagan had courage.
Alas, Bush had a knack for surrounding himself with mediocre minds, to which category Matt Latimer clearly belongs (along with David Kuo and Michael Gerson). Here is Latimer in a GQ article:
As a young political geek growing up in Flint, Michigan, I’d always dreamed of heading to Washington to work for a conservative president and help usher in another Reagan Revolution. . . .By which time he had mastered the two-faced ways of the ambitious Washington backstabber. Matt Latimer is exactly the sort of arrogant weakling that bad leadership attracts, so that George W. Bush is to blame for the knives in his own back.
My youthful exuberance cooled as I moved up the rungs of power. On Capitol Hill, I worked for a congressman who "misremembered" basic facts, such as the “Eisenhower assassination.” I worked for a senator who hid from his own staff. I was assigned to coach Republican senators on how to reach out to the media and entertainment world. (You try explaining The View to a group of 65-year-old white Republican men.) At the Pentagon, as chief speechwriter to Donald Rumsfeld, I battled an entrenched civil-service system and an inept communications team.
In 2007 I finally made it to the Bush White House as a presidential speechwriter. . . .
UPDATE: Via Memeorandum, we next encounter the nuanced, Harvard-educated, perfect-SAT intellectualism of Douthatism:
Adding insult to injury, the umpteenth insider look at Bush administration's dysfunction was unveiled last week as well, courtesy of an obscure second-term speechwriter named Matt Latimer. (Next up: Bush's White House chef tells all!) Latimer's memoir, excerpted in GQ, offers grist for Bush-whackers of both parties. For liberals, there’s Dubya the incurious frat boy, flubbing policy details and cracking wise about Hillary Clinton’s posterior. For conservatives eager to prove that the most unpopular president in 50 years was never really one of them, there’s Bush the crypto-liberal, who dismisses the conservative movement and boasts that he personally "redefined the Republican Party."Douthat is both intelligent and a good writer, but is too transparently conscious of writing for a specific readership. He expends more than 750 words en route to the conclusion that "it's possible to become a good president even -- or especially -- when you can no longer hope to be a great one."
Arguably true, as a general proposition, but is it really true of George W. Bush? Would it not be more true to say that, if Bush learned some lessons from his father's failed presidency, he nevertheless exemplified the hereditary faults of his father?
Bush 41 raised taxes. Dubya cut taxes (as a father of six, I am particularly grateful for that per-child tax credit). Bush 41 fought Iraq but left Saddam in power. Dubya cosquered Iraq and saw Saddam hanged.
So it can be said that Bush the son sought to redeem the family name by reversing what were widely considered two of Bush the father's biggest errors. (Critics of the Middle East policies
Nevertheless, Bush 43 had that same New England WASP Republican commitment to "respectability" -- the Politics of Niceness -- which was the intrinsic flaw of his father's politics, and which is why New England WASP Republicans are a dying breed.
Victorious political movements cannot be built upon the principles of Bushism. Niceness and respectability did not bring that "angry mob" to Capitol Hill on Sept. 12. Republicans need to stop hitting the snooze button, wake the hell up and grab a hot cup of Libertarian Populism.