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All The President's Values

By       Message Drew Westen       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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I'm starting to gain new respect for President Bush. Wow, that's a scary thought.

Sure, he was an impulsive, narcissistic little man of at-best average intellect, who acted on his "gut" even when it was as empty as his head. Sure, he had a Manichean world-view and split the world into those who are "with us" or "against us." Sure, he pursued an economic philosophy (if you can call three or four words strung together at a time, usually with improper syntax, the rudiments of a philosophy) that led to the Great Recession and a trillion dollar deficit to support a massive redistribution of income from the middle class to the super-rich. Sure, he loved cowboys so much he bought a ranch as a prop for his first presidential campaign and confused world leadership with a John Wayne movie. And sure, when he listened to his psychopathic sidekick, Karl Rove, he did some pretty shady things -- which was a lot of the time.

OK, so W. had his flaws.

But even when he was lying through his teeth, lying through somebody else's teeth (like Colin Powell's at the United Nations), or bombing the wrong country, you knew where he stood. He had beliefs. He had principles. He had values.

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Mind you, I didn't agree with any of those beliefs, principles, or values. But once Bush took off the "compassionate conservative" Halloween costume he wore for the 2000 election, he generally told us what he believed in and pursued it as vigorously as he asserted it.

For example, Bush thought gay people like his vice president's daughter were a threat to civilization (okay, maybe he had a point about Liz Cheney), so he tried to sell a Constitutional amendment to make them the official lepers of the United States (since both he and Jeb still needed Hispanics, and we already had a national flower).

He believed abortion was murder and that premarital sex was a sin (once he was no longer premarital, of course), so he used the big stick of both U.S. aid abroad and the federal government at home to prevent everyone he could from getting an abortion, a condom, or accurate information about birth control.

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He thought everyone should be able to carry an AK-47 into church, so he opened an office of faith-based initiatives and let the ban on assault weapons sunset.

And he believed that monopolies constitute a free market and that profits are good no matter how you get them, so he gave taxpayer subsidies to oil companies while gas was at $4.00 a gallon and handed the national car keys to Wall Street traders along with a fifth of Jack Daniels and a race track.

Okay, so he wasn't among, say, our top 43 presidents.

But I wouldn't mind hearing about values from our current president. And more importantly, I wouldn't mind seeing him act on them, whatever they are.

No, compromise doesn't count as a value. And personally, I'm over "let me talk about personal responsibility in front of a black audience because everybody likes that." It was inspiring the first couple of times, but it's starting to reinforce white people's stereotypes that all black people need a talking-to about personal responsibility.

Speaking of personal responsibility, let's set aside for a moment the fact that Obama brought on the fellas who crashed the economy to fix it and hasn't fired or investigated anyone who caused the Great Recession or who continues to suck bonuses from the blood of our 401(k)s. That would be looking backward, and we're supposed to look forward. And forget about the wiretapping, the extraordinary renditions, all that civil liberties stuff. That would be looking forward, and we're supposed to be looking away. No one really knows why he's taken the positions he has on those issues because the reasons are all either classified or locked up in some jail cell in some country far away with duct tape over its mouth.

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Let's just stick with one issue, health care. The president is right: we can all agree on about 80 percent. Insurance companies should have to reimburse doctors for the KY if they're going to allow prostate exams during men's yearly physicals. That's preventive care, and we're all for that. Nor should they be able to exclude people for coverage who have pre-existing conditions, cut people off on a pretext when they're in the middle of a costly illness, or impose annual or lifetime caps on medical expenses, especially when they're going to get 46 million new customers. And pharmaceutical companies should be able to set their own prices without negotiation if they agree not to oppose health care reform the way they did in 1994, continue giving millions to members of Congressional committees that deal with health care, and run $150 million in ads for the president's plan produced by the firms that ran his campaign so they have some cash to tide them over until 2012. Well, maybe we don't all agree on that last one.

But then there's the other 20 percent. Let's set aside for a moment how we're going to keep costs down if we don't ask anything much of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, or the upper 1 percent of Americans, for whom tax increases somehow got off the table. (The answer: tax the health care benefits of middle class Americans and cut the waste from Medicare and hope you don't accidentally cut essential benefits to seniors.)

No one seems to notice that the president who believes social issues are so "90's," "retro," and "distracting" that he can just avoid them until the "real" issues have been settled (by which point he will likely have lost his super-majorities in one or both houses of Congress) has actually been steadily reinforcing the conservative position on every one of them.

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Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation."

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