Paying Penance

Watching The Charlie Rose Show is my political hair shirt. Mr. Rose's approach to art, politics, literature or economics comes with all the assumptions of a liberal elite that I find difficult to abide. It is a rare moment when the views of someone with my politics are given a fair hearing. Although mostly painful to watch, I consider it my penance, and try to fairly consider the arguments as set forth. Only when a fawning Charlie Rose interviews preening movie stars do I allow myself the satisfaction of a smug remark and a quick dive for the off switch on the remote.

So last night I successfully kept my hand off the clicker and watched eight Kerry voters discuss the State of the Union Address. I struggled valiantly to avoid voicing exasperated rejoinders to the verbal cuts and slashes they inflicted on the president. And I made my best effort to appreciate the somber descriptions of a failed presidency, a lost war, a ineffectual leader and Republican Party that is in full retreat from its president and his war.

Is it a failed presidency? Is this a president so weakened by events in Iraq that this State of the Union should be compared to Clinton post Lewinsky, Carter post Desert Disaster, or Nixon post Watergate? In a larger context, are we seeing the end of leadership in America until the next president is inaugurated?

To his credit, Charlie Rose seemed skeptical that the Bush Administration is over and even mentioned the best presidential analogy that I can think of - the Bush as Truman analogy. Like Bush, Truman stumbled into office during world changing times. His presidency required a restructuring of global rule sets which forced wrenching change on both this country and the world. He was barely reelected by a deeply divided country and chose to engage America in a foreign war that was deeply unpopular internationally and which ultimately turned into a bitter stalemate. And he left office the most unpopular president of the 20th century.

Rose made this analogy in the context of Bush's frequent references to how history will judge his decisions. Bush clearly believes that given the struggle with global terrorism, the War in Iraq will be viewed by future generations as a necessary action. I tend to agree with him, although I also think that history may judge the conduct of the war not unlike Lincoln's efforts in the first three years of the Civil War. That president struggled with his war and was ill served by the his generals. It is still an open question as to whether Bush can fix the Iraq War as Lincoln ultimately won the Civil War, but it is only fair to mention that the people advising him have in many instances done so poorly.

But in the light of a broader historical context, I agree with Charlie Rose and believe that Bush will be seen much as Truman now is. Neither man may have been the best person available for the job, but both squarely addressed world changing events with bold and necessary policies. Global radical Islam did need to be confronted, the Middle East does need to be pulled kicking and screaming out of the seventh century, and we do need to recognize the failure of European leadership on the global stage. I believe history will recognize that the alternatives offered to Bush were few and that in large part he acted as any responsible leader should have.

I also believe that history will not be so kind to his political foes. On both the domestic and international fronts, those who oppose Bush offer very little in response to the challenges we face. The Democrats constantly criticize the conduct of the war, but offer thin gruel when it comes to alternate policy. The Europeans are prone to vile anti-Bush rhetoric, but when given responsibility for negotiating with the Iranians or solving the Palestinian problem, they are ineffectual at best, and destructive at worst.

So when I pay my penance by watching the Rose round table of left leaning media elites, I fail to see much valuable analysis of a presidency. The most notable thing on offer is an apparent lack of useful alternatives. It appears that none of these folks, nor their allies in the Democrat Party, are willing to take responsibility for the inevitable human or political disaster that will result from an American withdrawal from Iraq. As such, their criticism of the president's plans and actions rings hollow.

And it seems clear to me that history will take note of that.



4:24 PM

Give the Middle East some credit. It needs to be pulled out of the eleventh century...