Monday, January 26, 2009

Bush's Cardinal Sin: The Failure to Communicate

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” This classic phrase by Strother Martin and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke explains George Bush’s greatest failure as President. It’s not Iraq, which appears to be a victory; it’s not the global collapse of the credit markets, which occurred on his watch. Neither is it 9/11 nor Katrina.
No, it’s his failure to communicate, to explain and defend his Administration.
A cardinal rule of politics is to define yourself because if you don’t your opponents will do it for you. And if a lie or misrepresentation is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth.
The President is the public face of the Administration, but the Bush Administration had no public face. The President must get the message out, defend the Administration, empathize with the people.
He ran the Administration as a CEO holed up in an office, letting others, if at all, do the public presence.
The President has the Bully Pulpit. He must use it. The President must also be a cheerleader for America. An effective President must connect with the American public. FDR’s fight from 1932 to 1941 to end the Great Depression may have been a failure, but the public believed in him because he constantly touched them, especially through his fireside chats.
An effective President can not be perceived as a behind the scenes MBA type, isolated from the public.
The President must defend the Administration or suffer the death of a thousand cuts.
Quiet competence may be rewarded by historians decades from now, but the contemporary regard of the public is essential to the President while in office.
Bush’s aides admit that the Administration never recovered from the seemingly tepid response to Katrina. Legally, the federal government is not the first responder in natural disasters; it’s the states.
The President should have played the tapes that showed Mayor Nagin of New Orleans ordered an evacuation two days before Katrina struck and then was countermanded by Governor Blanco. The second tape should have been the one in which the Governor stated that federal assistance was not needed. The final tape in the trilogy would have been the damage to the Lake District and St. Bernard’s Parish, showing that it wasn’t just the African American Ninth Ward which was devastated.
Instead, Bush remained silent and his opponents painted him as incompetent and racist.
The Valerie Plame debacle is another prime example. Long after the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald discovered that the “leaker” of her identity as a CIA employee to Robert Novack was Richard Armitrage, the Deputy Secretary of State, he continued the inquiry and then brought a lying charge against Libby Scooter, the principal aide to Vice President Chaney.
The Bush Administration treated the situation solely as a legal matter. President Clinton, in his impeachment for obstruction of justice and perjury, could also have treated it as a legal matter. Instead, from the beginning the Clintonistas treated Kenneth Starr’s investigation as a political battle, and proceeded to slime him. Starr did not fight back, and came out looking like an incompetent pervert.
The Bush Administration did not have to denigrate Fitzpatrick, but could have questioned the need for the Special Prosecutor to proceed after the identity of the culprit was discovered and that it was clear the law was not broken with her identification.
President Bush was widely accused of lying to the American people to get us into an unnecessary war with Iraq. The argument was that since weapons of mass destruction were not found, Bush must have lied. Several reasons existed for the invasion. In essence, Hussein was a continual threat to peace in the Mideast.
Almost everyone, including Iraqi generals, reasonably believed Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Our soldiers were fortunate he did not.
The Bush Administration should have clearly informed the American people that Congress, in voting to authorize the war, was provided the same information that the Bush Administration relied upon. Interestingly, Senator Clinton, the newly sworn in Secretary of State, admitted that she had not read the information provided prior to voting to authorize military action. We can assume that she was not the only one who failed to make an informed decision.
While we are told that Hussein was not involved in 9/11, he was involved in sponsoring terrorism in the Mideast. Every time a suicide bomber blew up Israelis, Saddam sent the bomber’s family $25,000. He also harbored terrorists in Iraq.
Saddam also tried to have the former President, George H. W. Bush, assassinated. That alone would be causa bellis.
Bush initially bonded with the public in his appearance at Ground Zero. The Administration was later accused of not connecting the dots, and that it was warned of the threat of Osama Bin Ladin. The reality is that no specific warning was provided of a specific threat – only of a general threat which provided no useful information upon which to take preventative measures. Bush should simply have pointed out that the Sudan government on three occasions offered Bin Laden to Clinton, who refused to accept him as a prisoner. 9/11 then followed.
On another occasion the Bush Administration and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were accused of playing politics with dismissing six United States Attorneys. The US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, who has every right to terminate them for poor service.
The reason for their firings in essence was a failure to pursue and then prosecute instances of voter fraud, such as in Missouri and New Mexico. Think ACORN! We know that in the recent elections, Senator Norm Coleman probably lost reelection because of ACORN’s actions.
One of the first acts of President Clinton in assuming the Presidency was to fire every US Attorney, shutting down in the process ongoing investigations of Democratic misconduct.
And yet, Congressman John Conyers is still holding Congressional Hearings in an effort to bring criminal indictments against Karl Rove and other members of the Bush White House.
The Bush Administration was silent on all these major “scandals.”
Instead what happened with all of these situations is that talk radio took the lead in defending the Administration, but they are essentially appealing to those who already believe in the Administration.
Admittedly, President Bush assumed office with half of Americans voting against him, and a sizable minority believing him to be illegitimate. In their view, he was “selected” – not “elected.” Many never accepted him. Unlike the current inauguration of President Obama, the Democrats never pled for the Country, all of us, to support President Bush and rally around him.
Bush probably also assumed that, no matter what he did, the media would never give him the credit he deserved. How much have we heard, for example, of the sums he spent fighting AIDs in Africa, or the multilateral negotiations with Iran and North Korea to remove their potential to build the bomb?
President Bush failed to communicate, and his approval rating suffered accordingly. We all suffered for this failure.
Do not expect President Obama to make the same mistake.

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