Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rebutting and rebuking Karl Rove's editorial on former President Bush

In his recent editorial, Bush Was Right When It Mattered Most, Karl Rove attempts to defend the former President Bush. Contrary to popular belief, Rove is not spinning in order to help shape his former boss's legacy. Rove actually believes what he says. He is gifted (or burdened) with the ability to view the world in a way that supports his pre-defined world view. He is simply unable to process and integrate information that would not support how he believes the world is or should be.

But Rove's inabilities should not limit our abilities to challenge his frames and rationales. And, it won't. The following is a point-by-point rebuttal and rebuke of Rove's fantastic view on Bush's legacy:

The former president and his wife thanked each passenger, showing the thoughtfulness and grace so characteristic of this wonderful American family.

Karl kicks off his rationale by directly conflating Bush's personality and demeanor with his performance as President and Commander-in-Chief. As most of us know who have ever worked in a company, a great person can be really bad at his or her job.

Yet, as Mr. Bush left Washington, in a last angry frenzy his critics again distorted his record, maligned his character and repeated untruths about his years in the Oval Office. Nothing they wrote or said changes the essential facts.

Here, Karl cares about the mainstream media that he consistently claims he doesn't care about. This is a common psychological hiccup in the conservative mind... it at once needs to be tough and victimized. A tricky dance, and I find it fascinating how few liberals call conservatives out on this.

To start with, Mr. Bush was right about Iraq. The world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power. And the former president was right to change strategy and surge more U.S. troops.

Yes, Karl, let's start with Iraq. Actually, let's first talk about conservative rationale management. I find it fascinating how sturdy the conservative mind is with conceptual rationalization. This was the first and only rationale for the war that conservatives have trotted out, and they won't give it up no matter how flat it has fallen on the populace over the years.

Now, onto Iraq. Let's be perfectly clear: Mr. Bush clearly stated that we went to war with Iraq because Saddam refused to give up his WMD program. This was the sole (and I believe formalized) reason for the U.S.'s preemptive attack on a sovereign nation. Insomuch that we know that there was no WMD program to give up, Mr. Bush was categorically wrong. Even if the world is 5000% safer without Saddam Hussein in power, Bush was still wrong based on his own stated rationale for preemptive war. And don't think that I missed the smaller conflation of "the world is safer" vs. "the United States is safer" in this rationale. There's a reason for using "world" as context vs. the U.S. -- they can't with a straight face argue that we in the United States are safer now that we know there was no WMD program.

Mr. Bush was right to match tax cuts with spending restraint.

Karl goes on to try to justify this statement by containing the frame to the very specific budget components that meet his objectives. The rest of us may just go here and look at the unfiltered numbers (debt as % of GDP and debt per capita -- take your pick).

He was right to have modernized Medicare with prescription drug benefits provided through competition, not delivered by government. The program is costing 40% less than projected because market forces dominate and people -- not government -- are making the decisions.

Here Karl pulls another political trick that too often goes unnoticed and uncontested -- he creates a straw-man argument to show how superior the Bush solution was compared to an extreme alternative that is based on fantasy, yet obliquely attributed to the Democrats.

Mr. Bush was right to pass No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requiring states to set up tough accountability systems that measure every child's progress at school. As a result, reading and math scores have risen more in the last five years since NCLB than in the prior 28 years.

For all the good intentions of NCLB, I know too many teachers who know all too well that NCLB has created a "teach to the test" culture that does improve test scores, but does not improve education. So, yes, NCLB succeeds in the metrics that Karl chooses to pick, but unfortunately, Karl picks the wrong metrics if the goal is improving education.

He was right to stand for a culture of life. And he was right to appoint conservative judges who strictly interpret the Constitution.

Here, Karl uses some tried-and-true straw-men arguments to once again insinuate that Democrats would advocate a culture of death and judges who loosely interpret the Constitution. Yes, Bush stood for banning abortion, but he did very little to actually ban it (ask any vehement pro-lifer). And, yes, Bush did come through (eventually) in picking conservative judges. But it's not all that clear to me that anyone can measure how strict someone can interpret something. Once interpreting something, the creativity and logic of the human mind is in action. In the end, being a good judge comes down to good judgment, not good strictness.

And Mr. Bush, a man of core decency and integrity, was right not to reply in kind when Democratic leaders called him a liar and a loser. The price of trying to change the tone in Washington was to be often pummeled by lesser men.

Karl has no problem re-using the tools of persuasion as many times as needed, in an effort to exhaust the critic. Here, he re-conflates Bush's personality with his ability to do his job, and astonishingly paints the President of the United States as the victim of the tone in Washington.

Few presidents had as many challenges arise during their eight years, had as many tough calls to make in such a partisan-charged environment, or had to act in the face of such hostile media and elite opinion.

If the way you do your job creates problems, you can succeed in your career by either changing what you do in order to reduce or eliminate the problems you have been creating, or you can point to the problems as situations that were inevitable and not your fault, and then make yourself into a martyr-hero by struggling through these problems with valiant honor.

The first approach enables progress and efficiency, and the second approach creates drama and conflict that is compelling to observe, but painful to those who are directly affected by these problems. The approach one takes has more to do with abilities than it does with being "good" or "evil." Without disparaging Bush's personal character, it is fair to assert that he simply didn't have the competencies to figure out that he was the creator of so many of the problems he faced.

But despite facing challenges and crises few others have, the job did not break George W. Bush. Though older and grayer, his brows more furrowed, he is the same man he was, a person of integrity who did what he believed was right.

Karl, how else would you explain a complete lack of foreign poilcy cohesiveness, domestic economic unrest, and a listlessness that defined the last quarter of his second term? He allowed the Middle East to tumble into turmoil, the banking system to fall on its collective face, Russia to invade Georgia with no repercussions, and Iran to continue to make steady progress toward being a nuclear power. OK, Karl, if you want to talk about the job not breaking George W. Bush the person, I can agree with you. But that is of absolutely no consequence to any of us who do not know him socially. What matters to we, the people is what George W. Bush did in the job he was hired to do.

Karl, it is -- and has been -- the country's assessment that the job did break George W. Bush. Just look at what President Obama has done in this first 48 hours, and you can see what a President does when he's not broken.

1 comment:

Excellent and well-articulated rebuttal!