Bush doesn 't play fair; His tactics are not consistent with democracy.
by Paul Willett
George Bush ran for President with the promise that he would be a uniter, rather than a divider. He promised to offer a new kind of "compassionate conservatism, " and to reestablish ethical leadership in the White House. He promised not to involve us in costly and unrealistic "nation building " overseas. In retrospect, these were all hollow campaign promises, and we 've seen little evidence that those promises have had anything but the lowest priorities during his first three years in office. The cynics among us may shake their heads, and marvel at our disappointment, thinking, "It has always been like this, with all candidates issuing pleasing campaign rhetoric, and all falling short once elected. It simply takes time to see their true colors. Why should Bush be any different? This is the game of politics. "
Yet even staunch supporters of the Bush administration would acknowledge that there is an uncommon ferocity among democrats and progressives, a rancor far beyond normal partisan opposition. Why is this? The answer is that President Bush doesn 't play fair.
I am skeptical of using analogies which might oversimplify otherwise complex issues. Nevertheless, I 'm going to use a clumsy analogy here, to illustrate a point. Let 's think of politics as like the game of football. We fans tend to identify with a particular team, and we take great pleasure and pride when our team is doing well. But when our team is struggling, we understand that this is all part of the game, it is the ebb and flow of sport, and we hope that next season will be better. We don 't celebrate our rivals ' victories as we would our own, but we understand that this is their time, and they are succeeding because they are playing the game with great skill and determination. We honor their successes, as long as they honor the game. And we know that our time will come. And we can still take pride in the game.
Normally, I think of politics in a similar way, albeit more sullied and less exciting. Our nation experiences cycles of liberalism and conservatism, and this is in keeping with the checks and balances that make our system work. The right pulls, and the left pulls, and somehow we end up with leaders that both sides can to some degree accept. But something else has been going on these last few years, something dark and dangerous. Something is terribly wrong here. Our President is not playing the game fairly.
President Bush shows no respect for the constitution, or for international law, or for the diplomatic accomplishments of those who preceded him. He does not hold himself accountable for the accuracy of his statements, or for the consequences when his policies bear bitter fruit. For Bush, ideology trumps research and analysis, and facts are simply malleable tools used to pursue policies that that his "gut " has somehow selected. He shows disdain for academics and experts outside his own team, and states frankly that he doesn 't read the newspaper. His own speech writers have described him as "ill informed and incurious ". His administration picks, chooses, and further distorts facts that support its own positions, while deliberately suppressing contrary evidence. In this way, Bush uses the media to render the truth inconsequential. Bush and his administration show absolute disdain for the importance of transparency in government. In doing so, he also shows disdain for voters, and for representative government. Increasingly, policy is made behind closed doors, by persons unknown and unseen. Former oil men Bush and Cheney continue to stonewall the nation about secretive meetings of its Energy Task Force, which served to develop our national energy policy. When faced with whistle blowers such as Paul O 'Neill, Joseph Wilson and Richard Clarke, Bush has made no attempt to address the substance of their claims. Faced with uncomfortable truths, the Bushies have wheeled into action, attacking the messenger, time and again.
The common thread here is that most dangerous of political thoughts: the end [totally] justifies the means. The goal is so extremely important that principles are foolish indulgences. Some would say that the nation is at war, and extreme measures are warranted. But please consider that this war in Iraq is a war that Bush chose to initiate. Also consider that such undemocratic tactics can be seen across the board, in economic, social, and environmental policies, in areas unrelated to national defense. And what of the goal? With regard to the war on terrorism, who among us can say that he or she feels safer today? Who is so blind that he or she cannot foresee the proliferation of terrorism as we further alienate moderate Muslims? Are the ranks of potential terrorists shrinking or swelling? Tragically, we have the worst of both worlds: we have sacrificed our principles in pursuit of an ill-conceived and receding goal. We are failing. Shameful process, shameful outcome. How could it be otherwise?
The problem is not simply that the policies of the Bush administration are contrary to the partisan wishes of democrats and progressives. The problem is that the tactics used by Bush are not consistent with democracy. He does not play fair, he does not honor the game, and this type of leadership, if allowed to continue, undermines the values that make America worth fighting for.
There 's another more important problem with my analogy that has no doubt occurred to you: this is no game we 're playing. Lives are forfeit, the lives of more than 700 of our young men and women, and of untold Iraqis, perhaps 10,000. The future of Iraq is at stake, and probably of the entire Middle East . America 's reputation is at stake, and what we are doing has a profound effect on how America is viewed abroad. Thomas Friedman, centrist writer for the New York Times, puts it this way: "I have never known a time in the world when America and its president were more hated around the world than today. "
Those who are silent when confronted by this kind of leadership are at least partially responsible for its consequences. I see us all as responsible for the actions of our government, and, unlike Bush, I acknowledge my responsibility for the outcome and I shudder.