One of the fine writers whose columns frequently appear in these pages made the point in a recent article that George W. Bush is a fundamentally good man. That is beyond dispute. However, a president doesn't help the country or his party with his goodness when he sits back and lets the bad guys trample all over him.
I know, from personal experience, that in most adult situations-whether family or work-based-the soft-spoken and unassertive types are the ones who end up doing most of the heavy lifting, receiving the least credit, and getting the short end of the stick time and time again. That's just what comes with the package when you're part of the ordinary masses. But when you're the President of the United States, the oft-described "most powerful man on the planet," you must act the part. Too often in his two terms, this president has not acted the part.
It pains me to write this because it feels like I'm piling on to a mountain of largely undeserved criticism of this president. But unfortunately, one of his main legacies is simply this: He has allowed the conservative movement to regress, and at the same time enabled the liberal movement to grow stronger and bolder in his time in office.
A movement in politics, by definition, does not stand still; it's either moving forward or backward. During Ronald Reagan's two terms, the conservative movement made great forward strides in this country. However, with the advent of George H. W. Bush's presidency, the conservative movement started to lose ground. Bush the Elder's famous (or infamous) quote from his inaugural address about having a "kinder, gentler nation" was an indirect slap at his predecessor's willingness to confront his opposition instead of compromising with them.
The fact is, if Reagan had listened to his opponents and compromised with them, the world political scene today could be vastly different. For instance, he would not have had the bargaining chip of the Strategic Defense Initiative (derided as "Star Wars" by his critics) to use with devastating effect on the former Soviet Union. Without SDI, Reagan could not have walked away from Soviet "leader" Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit with no arms reduction deal. SDI, mocked and ridiculed as it was by the left, was a big reason that the Soviet Union could no longer compete with us militarily and, once that became evident, the collapse of the communist system there was a foregone conclusion.
Too often in his administration, George W. Bush has compromised with the Democrats, not learning the lesson of his father who made a deadly compromise on tax increases that he had promised never to make. Too often, Bush 43 has missed opportunities to point out his opponents' glaring weaknesses to the American public; to use the bully pulpit of his office to promote his own ideas as superior. A key example of this is energy policy.
Only when gasoline has reached $4.00 per gallon did President Bush finally stand up and rescind the ridiculous hand-tying executive order that prohibited off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas. But as the lamest of lame ducks and with the opposition now in power in Congress, his chances of getting Democrats to go along with lifting the off-shore ban are two: slim and none. Where was this initiative several years ago, when it was evident that due to the expanding economies of China and India, we were going to need to do something to avoid where we are now? A steady critique of the extremists in the environmentalist movement could have set the table for a public outcry to lift the drilling restrictions by now. And yes, the public is finally stirring on this issue, but with a looming Obama presidency it could be a case of too little, too late.
Too often, this president has been AWOL on confronting issues where leftists such as environmentalists set the agenda with impunity and force 1984-style draconian measures on innocent people in the name of saving some supposedly endangered insect or fowl. The utter ridiculousness of prohibiting legitimate economic development-and the accompanying job growth that it brings-simply because it may have some negative impact on the mating habits of an insect or bird, goes beyond the comprehension of any truly sane person. It's up to our Chief Executive, as titular leader of the party that supposedly opposes such horrific infringement of property rights, to do everything in his power to prevent these things from happening. It's really a matter of credibility; once the environmentalists are exposed in one area for the frauds that they are, then that becomes the first step in their house of cards collapsing-global warming, drilling prohibitions, saving the spotted owl, and all of the erroneous assumptions on which these things stand. Of course, in order to accomplish such lofty objectives even a president must have more than public opinion in his corner. And that brings us to the courts.
Yes, it's true that President Bush has made two very good, perhaps great appointments to the Supreme Court in Justices Roberts and Alito. He's also made some solid appointments to other federal benches. However, he has not spoken out forcefully about the runaway jurists who have assumed legislative-type power in dictating policies that are often at variance with our Constitution. By doing so, he could have created a national debate that may have questioned the wisdom of lifetime appointments or, at the least, provided more solid grounds for impeachment and removal of judges who continually overstep their boundaries.
Unfortunately, President Bush has brought a lot of his unpopularity on himself by not responding to overwhelming, and mostly unjustified critiques from the left. When one is silent while getting pummeled, the vast majority will assume that there must be something to whatever the critics are saying, no matter how outrageous it may be. Even in these waning months of his administration, there are members of Congress actively seeking his impeachment. It's not so much the impeachment effort itself to which Bush should respond; rather, its incredibly shaky premise that the president has assumed "unconstitutional" and dictatorial powers in the post 9/11 world we now live in. The president should have made it clear by now that he has bent over backward to ensure that we the public retain as much personal freedom as possible in the face of dealing with the terrorist threat. He might add that his critics, in most areas of policy that affect our daily lives, are opposed to our keeping such precious freedoms if it gets in the way of their agenda.
We'll find out in November just how much President Bush's failure to fight back has hurt his party's chances for future success. But I'm guessing that the effect could be devastating.