Too cute by half

George W. Bush had his share of flaws as president, but one of his abiding strengths was his clarity on the most important issues of the day. He was never a good communicator, but you always knew where he stood. He was resolute on protecting America and was willing to put his popularity in the cross hairs of his opponents to do so. He opposed stem-cell research because he is pro-life, and was adamant against the use of tax-payer monies to fund abortions. The Bush clarity was maddening to the left, but was a source of comfort for many in the country who knew that they didn't have to guess on a daily basis where the president stood. Contrast that with Barack Obama, and you are struck by the difference. As during the campaign, Obama still seeks to be all things to all people, trying to split the middle in lawyer-like fashion in order to make everyone happy. His statements on many issues have been muddled and confused, because he is apparently interested in being able to argue both sides with equal conviction. It makes for a fine lawyer. But does it make for a good president?

Daniel Henninger has an interesting take on it today in an opinion piece entitled "Harry, I have a gift". Here's an excerpt:

Early in the campaign, in January 2007, a New York Times reporter wrote a story about Mr. Obama's time as president of the Harvard Law Review. It was there, the reporter noted, "he first became a political sensation."

Here's why: "Mr. Obama cast himself as an eager listener, sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once." Also: "People had a way of hearing what they wanted in Mr. Obama's words."

Harvard Law Prof. Charles Ogletree told how Mr. Obama spoke on one contentious issue at the law school, and each side thought he was endorsing their view. Mr. Ogletree said: "Everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me."

The reason I have never forgotten this article is its last sentence, in which Al Gore's former chief of staff Ron Klain, also of Harvard Law, reflects on the Obama sensation: "The interesting caveat is that is a style of leadership more effective running a law review than running a country."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a book out next week, tells of congratulating freshman Sen. Obama on a phenomenal speech. Without a hint of conceit, Mr. Obama replied, "Harry, I have a gift."

He does. We know from tradition, though, that when the gods bestow magic on mortals, the gift can also imperil its possessor. The first hint of potential peril in Mr. Obama's gift arrived last week with the confusion over where the president stood on the terrorist interrogation memos and prosecution of former Bush officials. Here, as 19 years ago, many on both sides of a contentious issue who heard him speak thought Mr. Obama agreed with them.

Henninger goes on to discuss the confusion over the interrogation memos and the potential prosecutions of the memo-writers, when Rahm Emanuel said decisively "no" to prosecutions and the President said "well, maybe". The President was, as is his want, trying to give grist to the left in his public statement, while his staff later took great pains to clarify that he "wants to move on" from this chapter and isn't really interested in a prolonged "witch hunt", etc. It was splitting the difference in a way that Obama likes -- saying enough to appease his base but not so much that he can be pinned down to any clear position. It's Obama's way to use his "gift" to obfuscate and confuse, to distract people from his real intentions. He did it brilliantly during his campaign, where he appeared to be a moderate post-partisan politician who wanted to "change" Washington. The reality as we now know is quite different: a highly partisan pol who doesn't seem strong enough to stand up to the most partisan groups in the Democratic Party.

There is a very real danger when the gift for gab become a substitute for clear thought and concise communication. Perhaps the president's teleprompter has too much sway in this administration, taking the president on verbal forays that are too cute by half. It is bad enough when it confuses the American public. It is worse when it confuses our enemies into believing that we are weak and willing to compromise on even the most vital of national security issues.

I'd take clarity over the gift, any day.

ET threat eases with Bush gone

One of the very few benefits of the Obamanaugurasm is the anticipated decline of rampant cases of Bush Derangement Syndrome. BDS is the psychological malady that places all blame for all misfortune anywhere in the world squarely on the shoulders of our 43rd president, or any of the administration’s supporting cast. Here in Colorado, BDS went out with an attempted bang at Aspen on New Year’s Eve, when a psychologically disturbed Bush-hater (is there any other kind?) left bombs at two banks, prepared more, and delivered threatening notes promising a “horrible price in blood." The reason: “Too many people and I do hate Rove/Bush with a passion.”

The various feeble attempts at Bush-bashing in the media (“Was Bush the worst president ever, or just one of the worst of the last century?”) and during the Inaugurasm festivities were at worst the final pathetic whimper of BDS as the 43rd presidency drew to a close.

But just when it appeared that Bush Derangement Syndrome had at long last culminated in a bang or a whimper, it appears that we’re not through with the loony lefties (literally in this case) just yet. Buried deep in the 22 January edition of the possibly-soon-to-be-late-lamented Rocky Mountain News (p.28) is the following gem:

Alien Invasion Plan on Hold

A proposed ballot initiative to create a government commission in Denver tasked with developing a strategy to deal with space aliens on Earth has been shelved.

For the time being, anyway.

"It’s on hold for now because of the confidence that I feel and a lot of people feel in the Obama administration in moving toward more disclosure of the UFO/extraterrestrial information," said Jeff Peckman, whose proposed Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission generated national headlines.

"But I would say I’m only 51 percent confident, so I’m not abandoning the ballot initiative," he said Wednesday.

Whew! It’s good to know that the Obamessiah has the confidence (well, 51% confidence, anyway) of the moonbat contingent, and in addition to healing the planet, halting the rise of the oceans, caring for the sick, housing the people (“living in the street”), shoeing the children (“with no shoes on their feet”) – oh, there’s a solution – Obama will be working on the alien invasion issue.

When does that poor man ever sleep?

Merci, Monsieur le Président

Dear President George W. Bush: As you open a new chapter in your life down in Crawford, Texas, after eight, sometimes turbulent years as the 43rd President of the United States, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly express my eternal gratitude to you for strengthening my faith in America’s destiny as a truly exceptional nation. It all goes back to March 2003. Back then, I remember huddling over my ancient radio trying to pick up medium-wave signals of the BBC World Service for the latest English-language news about the outcome of a summit meeting which you were holding in the Azores with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to work out a U.N. resolution that might eventually lead to military intervention in Iraq. In hindsight, I can truthfully say that when the report ended with the view that war was imminent, I was born again.

Please, do not get me wrong. I agree that war is ugly and should always be used as a last resort. However World War II taught us that the use of force in a just cause is an eminently virtuous course of action. In March 2003, most Europeans were still wilfully denying the essential truth of that painfully poignant lesson and you were trying hard to educate them.

Therefore, Mr. President, although your brand of conservatism eventually turned out to be too compassionate for my small-government predilections, I want to thank you again for courageously standing up for good against evil. I want to thank you again for steadfastly promoting freedom and democracy in the world. Above all, I want to thank you again for relentlessly protecting America and the American people and conserving the enduring values which your blessed country uniquely stands for.

May God bless you, Sir. May God bless the United States of America.

Yours Faithfully, A French friend of America

Note: “Paoli” is the pen name, er, nom de plume, of our French correspondent. Monsieur is a close student of European and US politics, a onetime exchange student in Colorado and a well-wisher to us Americans. He informs us the original Pasquale Paoli, 1725-1807, was the George Washington of Corsica.

Farewell to a president

George W. Bush gave his farewell address to the nation last night.  I thank him for his service. And in some important ways I will miss him.

Yes, there is plenty for conservatives to lament about his presidency. He presided over an unprecedented expansion of government pork and failed at every turn to rein in the profligate spenders in Congress. From 2001 to 2006 he presided over a unified government where the opportunities for driving home small-government conservatism were everywhere. But, alas, George W. Bush proved himself to be a big government conservative instead – failing to veto a single bill spending until 2006 (after the Democrats took control) and allowing a vast expansion of Medicare entitlements under his watch. Clearly, George Bush is no Ronald Reagan.

But it is equally clear to me that after 9/11, George Bush made a deal with himself and the nation: he would work tirelessly to keep us safe, even if he had to make compromises with Congress on spending and the economy. For as painful as the recent economic meltdown is, it is not fatal. 9/11 put this presidency on a wartime footing and in war you sometime make deals with the devil. FDR, the president the left likes to prominently stand up as the ideal Democrat, interned thousands of Japanese Americans in the name of national security.

War isn’t pretty. It requires lots of compromises in both policy and practice, and sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to do. One guesses that Barack Obama will soon see how tough this is.

So, George Bush decided that to keep Congress in line on fighting Al Qaeda and taking out Saddam Hussein, he would allow all sorts of domestic shenanigans. And this included looking the other way as the risks associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac escalated, fueling the sub-prime mortgage mess that exploded late in the 2008 campaign. Yes, there were warning signs galore – the collapse of Bear Stearns, the puncturing of the housing bubble, the government’s own internal audits.

But it hardly mattered to this war president: By 2006, with Iraq in disarray and verging on catastrophic failure, the president was focused exclusively outward. The slow fires burning at home were nagging problems that could hardly compare to the challenges of war in the Mid East. Bush – nor anyone else – could have predicted the massive crisis that has ensnared the world economy.

This, of course, doesn’t give the President a pass. Hardly. His failure to create and sustain a clear philosophy on economic matters helped to ensure that the storm that hit the financial markets would be stronger and more sustained than it ordinarily might have been. He was derelict in his leadership, of that there is no question – and history will judge him so.

But I give the man ample credit for trying to change the balance of power in the Middle East and in keeping the homeland safe from attack. No one on 9/12/2001 would have bet that Al Qaeda would not attack again and soon. His strength and unwavering discipline to do “what is necessary” to keep America safe is something that he will be lauded for in years to come. And his courage to take out Saddam and create a democracy in Iraq has the chance to remake the Arabian peninsula for years to come.  And while he has failed to confront Iran with sufficient force, the opportunity to make Iraq into an ally in the region should provide a useful base from which to both oppose Iran and support Israel.  Iraq -- if successful and intelligently utilized -- can provide a critical "balance shifter" in the fight against Shia extremism.

Time will tell if the Obama administration will risk or reward this grand effort.

In the end, my guess is that George W. Bush will be kindly remembered by historians, though like Truman, it may take a generation or two for it to happen. The long-term impact of Iraq and the overall war on terror will not quickly be clear. But when it is, he will get much credit for seeing evil and trying to defeat it.

We can only hope that his successor has such clarity.

Tax holiday a potent plan

"That's real economic stimulus," says John Andrews about GOP tax-holiday proposals in the January round of Head On TV debates. Susan Barnes-Gelt prefers the Keynesian approach, arguing that "shovel-ready projects need funding." John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Senate appointee Michael Bennet, state budget woes, the Bush legacy, and Denver schools. Head On has been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997. Here are all five scripts for January: 1. RECESSION REMEDY: WHAT’S BEST?

Susan: There was neither accountability nor strict guidelines attached to the $700 billion financial bailout. Shame on Congress and the White House. Ditto the billions given to automakers. Shovel ready projects need funding and may be a catalyst for economic recovery. But my confidence in the feds is shaky.

John: As far as guiding the economy, the very words “confidence in the feds” are an oxymoron. Both Washington and New York have forfeited our confidence with years of unwise policies. The best recession remedy now is real tax cuts. Not handing out checks. Not vast construction spending with long lead times.

Susan: Obama's swift action - separating himself from Bill Richardson when the threat of scandal appeared - is a good sign that he will not abide arcane and opaque Beltway practices. With state and local government strapped, the feds must inject significant resources into rebuilding the nation's failing infrastructure.

John: Every American could have a total tax holiday – no income taxes, no payroll taxes – for most of 2009 if Congress would simply pay for government operations out of the unused portion of last year’s $700 billion bailout and this year’s proposed trillion dollar spending spree. That’s real economic stimulus.


John: Educator and businessman Michael Bennet will be a capable senator. His appointment shows that Colorado Democrats have imagination, youth, and depth. He has many Republican friends, including me. But as an ally of Ritter and Obama, Bennet has a big government vision that’s wrong for America. My vote goes elsewhere in 2010.

Susan: I don't know that Bennet has a big government vision. Fact is, I don't know what Bennet's vision is. He's not a knee jerk liberal, may oppose card check and certainly is more center than left. Time will tell . . .

John: We don’t know, and that’s the problem. Appointive senators went out with the buggy whip. Ritter could have named Mike Miles, the Democrat runner-up to Salazar in 2004. Or an elder statesman like Dick Lamm or Roy Romer. Voters next year may prefer Bill Owens, Hank Brown, or Scott McInnis.

Susan: Why name a benchwarmer when the Dem's A-list is so good? Still - Bennet is an odd choice, particularly with the uber-talented Andrew Romanoff available - he has all of Bennet's assets - intelligence, thoughtfulness, a moderate, problem-solver plus a proven record and statewide support. Go figure!


John: Weak revenues will force the legislature to find half a billion in painful spending cuts with half the fiscal year gone. Ritter and the Democrats did this to us. Dems ignored Republican warnings to create a rainy day fund years ago, or to reduce spending last spring. Bad show, liberals.

Susan: Colorado's budget, hamstrung by TABOR, makes it impossible to implement the type of investments in infrastructure and the social safety net the state needs going into this tough recession. Every state is hobbled by arcane budget regs creating even greater dependency on the federal government, something you, John, should abhor.

John: Without the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights as a guardrail, Colorado’s deficit would be over the cliff like California’s. TABOR spending limits are currently suspended anyway, Susan, and the problem right now is weak revenues from a soft economy. The 2009 state budget mess came from poor planning by Democrats.

Susan: You're half-right John - weak revenues and a soft economy account for Colorado's budget woes. But 2 years of Democratic leadership aren't to blame. Lack of flexibility, failure to invest in public infrastructure - roads, higher ed, health care - and myopic fiscal policy are the real culprits.


Susan: Bush's feeble attempts to recast his legacy in the waning days of his term are pathetic. He took us to the edge of an abyss - economically, internationally, domestically. Who knows how long it will take to rebuild the nation's confidence, reputation abroad and fiscal integrity?

John: President Bush deserves the gratitude of all Americans for courageous wartime leadership against radical Islam. After 9/11 he kept the homeland absolutely safe for seven years. After Congress and the allies agreed Saddam must go, he persisted for victory in Iraq when others favored surrender. History will honor George W. Bush.

Susan: History will revile George W. Bush. His legacy will be defined by Katrina, the burning of Iraq, the re-emergence of a more violent Taliban, Abu Grahb, domestic wire taps, the collapse of Wall Street, Main Street, scandals aplenty and comprehensive incompetence.

John: Susan, Susan. Derangement syndrome does not become you. Take a deep breath. My guy from Texas had a mixed record in his eight years. So did your guy from Arkansas before him. And guess what, your new guy from Illinois will have a mixed record too. America will be just fine.


Susan: Michael Bennet's departure for Washington leaves Denver Public Schools without leadership at the top. The chief academic officer resigned last fall and there is no deputy or natural successor. The Board of Ed has its work cut out, given the unfinished initiatives on their plate.

John: Inner city kids continue to be cheated of a good education by a Denver teachers union that cares more about pay scales than learning performance. The answer is competition and market forces, charter schools and parental choice. Fortunately, that’s the agenda of Senate President Groff and House Speaker Carroll.

Susan: The Board of Education must consider the needs of its ever-diminishing and continually failing student body and identify leadership with strong credentials and a track record of improving achievement in urban school districts. A non-traditional superintendent may not be the right answer.

John: Denver citizens, especially the black and Hispanic community, should be outraged at a teachers union that recently played chicken with strike threats, like factory workers, while dropout rates remain high and scores remain low. Speaker Carroll and Senator Groff get it. So does Lt. Gov. O’Brien. Gov. Ritter does not.