February 21, 2010

George Bush's Five Worst Mistakes

Hatched by Dafydd

President George W. Bush famously refused to answer the asinine and offensive demand that he iterate all of his worst mistakes as president. I applaud him for that firm refusal.

But I'm happy to enumerate them here myself.

I do this for remedial and salutary reasons; I want future GOP presidents not to make the same mistakes, lest we suffer the same horrific consequences... the election of a leftist to the presidency and left-liberals to Congress, followed by years groaning under the yoke of Euro-socialism.

In general, I think Bush-43 was America's best president since Reagan; but that's not a very high standard. I'll go farther: He was America's fourth-best president since Abraham Lincoln. (The three presidents who were better during that period were, in chronological order, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.)

But he had five nigh-catastrophic whoppers that left his presidency flawed and incomplete:

I Spree live spree

He failed to veto even a single Republican spending bill. Bush had it within his power to save the GOP from itself: Had he vetoed the first few spending bills that exceeded rationality, I think the party would have pulled itself up by its own bootstraps -- and we (and Bush himself) would have been spared the ignominy of the 2006 and 2008 election defeats. Further, America would have been spared Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%), Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 70%), and of course President Barack H. Obama.

Alas, the president used up all his courage facing down al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, leaving nothing left to face down Denny Hastert, Trent Lott, and Bill Frist.

II Speech screech

In a fit of insanity, Bush signed the McCain-Feingold conspiracy to suppress political speech shortly before elections. Bush claims that he signed it expecting that the Supreme Court would strike it down as patently unconstitutional; but that's such a transparent evasion that it embarasses Bush's legacy.

(Eventually it did; but only after first upholding it, allowing the partial repeal of the First Amendment to wreck havoc on Republicans, as Democrats leveraged their paid union "volunteers" and "apolitical" news media into electoral gains.)

Bush should have vetoed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and warned the Republican Congress not to try to legislate away America's most precious constitutional rights.

III A cathartic constitional crisis

The Hamdan and Boumediene cases -- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) and Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. ___ (2008) -- sparked the mother of all "separation of powers" decisions: For the very first time in American history, a sharply divided Supreme Court held that Article III civilian federal courts had actual jurisdiction over military commissions and tribunals during wartime (Hamdan), and that prisoners and detainees of war, captured on a battlefield in the midst of a war, enjoyed habeas corpus rights (Boumediene)... even foreigners held on foreign soil. That is, unlawful enemy combatants can now challenge their military detention in civilian courts; and when tried by military tribunals must receive all the same rights as would American military personnel being tried at courts-martial.

This is insanity on stilts. Under this reasoning, even ordinary prisoners of war captured in combat can file writs of habeas corpus, and some federal judge could order them all released back to their military units (since no arrest warrant was issued), whence they could take up arms again and kill more Americans! Also, any federal judge can curtail any interrogation of unlawful combatants, because that violates the Fifth Amendment -- which evidently now applies to foreigners living abroad.

Such supposed rights had never been found or even imagined since 1787; but perhaps every legal scholar prior to the coming of the Lord of Light, Justice Anthony Kennedy, was a dope and a dupe.

But back to the president. George W. Bush had before him a principled (though ballsy) option: He could have announced, in response first to Hamdan, then again after Boumediene, that:

  • Civilian federal courts have no power to strip the President of the United States of his constitutional authority to be "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States;"
  • That the disposal of prisoners of war and other wartime detainees is an essential function of the Commander in Chief;
  • And that therefore, the president alone has authority over such detainees, subject only to the constitutional power of Congress to impeach and remove the president from office.

He should have told the Supreme Court, in the immortal words of Horace Greeley (claiming to be quoting President Andrew Jackson), "[The Chief Justice] has made his decision, now let him enforce it!"

Or even more succinctly, paraphrasing either Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Napoleon Bonaparte (depending who you ask)... "How many battalions does the Court have?"

Would such a direct rejection of a Supreme Court ruling have triggerd the much-dreaded "constitutional crisis?" You betcha! Is that a good thing? You betcha! Constitutional crises yield constitutional comprehension: Sometimes a crisis is vital in resolving whether the separation of powers really is an essential element of Americanism, or whether one branch of government should rule über alles... in this case as a modern-day kritarchy.

Oh... and it would also have serendipitously sharpened the ability of the president -- including successors to George W. Bush -- to fight and win the war against the Iran/al-Qaeda Axis.

IIII Nuke nuke... who's there?

This one is simple and heartbreaking. Bush promised that one thing he would never do is pass along the Iranian nuclear problem to his successor.

He did.

Worse, he passed it along to a habitual appeaser and waist-bower who has no intention of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear warheads to go along with its intermediate-range ballistic missiles. As Beldar, among others, points out, this virtually guarantees that we'll see a nuclear attack within our lifetimes.

Bush had a beautiful opportunity to implement the Herman Option, which we discussed before: Blockading Iran's importation of gasoline and seizing control of their few gasoline refineries, thus bringing the mullahs' government to a grinding halt in just a very few days.

We needed no U.N. vote, no sanction, no mandate from Congress, and no help from our allies; we already had the forces in the Straight of Hormuz. We lacked but the will for presidential action.

(We could have prevented Iran from undertaking its only defense -- blowing up and sinking an oil tanker in the Straight, thus blocking all oil exports to other nations -- by escorting all tankers in convoys with cruisers, minesweepers, and fast-attack subs.)

In any event, no matter how successful or un-, it sure would have beat doing nothing and letting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei get a pocketful of nukes to sprinkle around the civilized world.

V The Mary Poppins syndrome

Finally, Bush's greatest failing: Like Mary Poppins, he made it a practice never to explain anything!

Where Reagan was the Great Communicator, Bush was the Great Obfuscator. He never quite got the point that one of the primary duties of the POTUS is to explain to the American people what he and his administration are doing... and why they're doing it. In detail: Here is the problem; here are the options; here is one we've chosen; and this is why we chose it. Here are the potential upsides and downsides; and this is metric by which we'll judge its success.

I don't mean going to the U.N. for permission to overthrow Saddam Hussein, or testifying before Congress, or filing amicus briefs in the federal courts. I refer here to going before the people themselves, as Reagan loved to do, and speaking directly to them to explain the overall strategy and how all the niggling details fit into the big picture.

But Bush rarely did it, if ever. Rather than define himself and his tenure, Bush allowed his political enemies to define him in their own misleading terms. Needless to say, Bush came out the loser in that exchange.

Even such easily explained actions as invading Iraq and deposing the monster (and his monstrous spawn) were never really made understandable. It was left, too often, to us unrelated third parties, from politicians to journalists to bloggers, to explain Bush ourselves; and after eight years of such Delphic interpretation, I can tell you I grew damned tired of it!

Past performance no guarantee of future results -- thank goodness!

Let us hope -- no, let us demand -- that the incoming Republican president in 2013 reviews these great errors in the administration of George W. Bush... and resolves not to make the same stupid missteps. If he is vigilant against such apostasy to American ideals, I predict the New Republican Party, the Tea Partiers, and the American voters themselves will reward him with renewed financial support and reinvigorated poll numbers.

I think that the most common-sense principle that most Americans demand of he President of the United States is that he remember that he is the President of the United States, not the Compromiser in Chief or the CEO of the International House of Pandercakes.

Just stand up for common-sense and traditional American principles, and we'll understand if sometimes you lose the fight. At the very least, we want to see you go down swinging -- but swinging for us, not for the klepto-spenders, the silencers, the terrorists, or the candlelight vigilantes.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 21, 2010, at the time of 6:36 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mark Erikson

VERY well said! Congratulations, you've managed to nail the thoughts I've had over the years about why Bush was a good but flawed President. This essay definitely needs to get additional attention, particularly as we get closer to 2012.

The above hissed in response by: Mark Erikson [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 21, 2010 8:01 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

By your description of our next President, you make it sound as if it will be Sarah Palin!

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2010 6:33 AM

The following hissed in response by: MikeR

I certainly agree with the Iran bullet point. President Bush's first job was to protect us from Islamic terrorists, and though he fought a whole war to do it, he and the country were too weary to do what was most needed when it was most needed.

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2010 11:13 AM

The following hissed in response by: Chris Hunt

I agree that Bush failed to confront Iran, but let's not forget the complicity of the opposition in sacrificing responsibility on the altar of multilaterism.

The above hissed in response by: Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 23, 2010 7:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: flenser

You're a very smart guy, IMO, but even very smart guys can fool themselves sometimes. Bush's immigration stance was easily one of his top five mistakes, one that started a civil war in the GOP which still smolders today. It was also a position which contributed to our ongoing economic disaster.

The above hissed in response by: flenser [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 23, 2010 7:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: Chris Hunt

I'd forgotten about the immigration thing. That was a poor strategic decision.

Let's not forget the 2007 NIE that claimed that Iran had given up their nuclear weapons program in 2003. Remember that there was a lot of talk about Bush bombing the Iranian facilities on his way out, possibly in concert with the Israelis. That report, which was almost certainly deliberately misleading, put paid to that idea.

The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to blame the "loyal opposition" for their reflexive dismissal of any aggressive act after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The constant drumbeat of the Democrat leadership and the media sapped the entire country's will. It must have had some effect on the administration. There was no attempt by the Democrats to cut to the right of Bush or appear more hawkish than he was on any policy.

Let's face it, Congress could have done something itself. The Republican majority sat on its hands until the voters kicked them out. Where was the tangible support for the Iranian people? If the administration wasn't going to provide information and/or weapons to the opponents of the Iranian regime, then Congress could have done so itself.

There's plenty of blame to go along for that one, including China and especially Russia, which seems to view a nuclear Iran as a convenient excuse to offer their protection (coupled with energy dependence) to Europe. I wonder why that missile shield was really withdrawn? Could the Obama administration be that cynical as to go along with the reconstruction of the Soviet empire?

The above hissed in response by: Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2010 6:49 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Bush's immigration reform (which actually arose more from Congress than the president) was not a catastrophic error, any more than was his attempt to partially privatize Social Security. Both failed, but they were not mistakes in the same sense as the others listed above.

You may disagree with his immigration reform plan; you may disagree about privatizing Social Security; but neither of them is unfathomable, as was accepting Hamdan and Boumediene.

If I were going to add another to the list, it would be accepting the Supreme Court ruling in 2007 demanding that the EPA start regulating carbon dioxide as a "pollutant;" my only hesitation is that I don't know whether he actually did accept it -- or whether he fought against it until he was no longer president.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2010 1:05 PM

The following hissed in response by: Chris Hunt

I'm not sure how he could have not accepted the Court decisions. He was already being accused of being a fascist by large parts of the opposition. After all, it's the left that won't bother to honor the Constitution.

The above hissed in response by: Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 25, 2010 9:33 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Chris Hunt:

I'm not sure how he could have not accepted the Court decisions.

Because the Supreme Court does not have infinite jurisdiction or infinite reach.

Suppose that next month, the Court rules that Democrats are not eligible for the presidency and orders Barack H. Obama to vacate the position in favor of some Republican. Would he do it?

I wouldn't even make this an "Obamic Option" post, because it's a no-brainer: Of course he wouldn't leave office; and the GOP would join the Democrats in saying the Court had no authority, under the separation of powers, to issue such a political ruling.

In the present case, the Constitution itself puts the power to wage war into the hands, not of the Court, not even of Congress, but the Commander in Chief. The Court has no authority to rewrite this portion of the Constitution... and there is no authority senior to both the Court and the Executive that is the final arbiter. That's why we would have a constitutional crisis.

Presidents have ignored Court orders in the past, and the Republic did not fall. In this case, Bush could have enunciated the position that the decisions in Hamdan and Boumediene were beyond the scope of the Court to adjudicate under the separation of powers. The only available counter would be to remove Bush from office via impeachment.

For that, you would need a majority of the House and 67 senators; and I am utterly convinced that a strong majority of voters would agree with the president, not the Court, that non-citizen, non-resident, unlawful enemy combatants do not deserve the protections of our civilian court system.

With such an unpopular impeachment (for fighting terrorism with the vigor the American people want to see), show me where you could possibly get 67 senators to vote to remove Bush from office, especially as that would necessarily require at least 22 Republicans after Hamdan and at least 16 after Boumediene.

(Bear in mind that Boumediene was decided in 2008; consider the absurdity of trying to impeach a president in his final year in office!)

I doubt it would even have gotten as far as a trial; in 2006, when Hamdan was decided, Republicans had a 30-seat advantage over Democrats in the House. They never would have voted for impeachment in the first place. And by the time of Boumediene, the precedent would already be set. I doubt the slim, 51-49 majority enjoyed by the Democrats in 2008 (counting the two "independents" as Democrats) would have impeached Bush over this issue, either.

Bush would have been secure in his presidency... and he would have set the wonderful and cathartic precedent that the Supreme Court is a coequal branch of the government, not more coequal than the other two.

Oh, and we wouldn't have to put up with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being tried in an Article III court in New York or Chicago or wherever they plan to hold it.

(For that matter, I believe taking such a stand would have made Bush more popular, not less, particularly if accompanied by vetoing several GOP spending bills for being too expensive. Republicans might have done a lot better in the 2006 elections, and a Republican might have won the 2008 presidential election.)


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 25, 2010 1:15 PM

The following hissed in response by: Chris Hunt

I was not aware that previous administrations had ignored Court rulings.

Regardless, George W. Bush did not operate in that fashion. He seemed to be orthodox in his views on the separation of powers.

The above hissed in response by: Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 1, 2010 7:28 PM

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