Monday, November 22, 2004

Bush: puppet or puppeteer?

In Bush's first term, much commentary, particularly left-leaning coverage, tended to represent him as essentially a dupe or figurehead for a cabal of neocon intellectuals (or sometimes simply Dick Cheney). This was essentially the perspective put forth by Michael Moore, and was also the subtext behind the Cheney blague that ran around after the 2000 election that "Bush is a heartbeat away from the Presidency." Even the right had a version of this perspective on Bush when it argued sotto voce during the 2000 campaign that, yes, Bush might be a lightweight, but at least he would be surrounded by a solid and experienced staff.

What a difference an election makes! The conventional wisdom now emerging, as far as I can tell, deems Bush the ultimate arbiter of power. Instead of weakling or puppet, he's now seen as a decision-maker so uninterested in alternative viewpoints (much less dissent) that the unifying theme of his second term appointments is loyalism. Bush's tight-fisted, even ham-fisted, desire for control is now the guiding meme.

Is it possible to reconcile these two views of Bush? One way to do so is to array the perspectives temporally: in other words, to suggest that while Bush in his first term (and particularly after 9-11) was a pawn both of events and of experienced advisors, things have changed: now, after four years in office, he's gained skills and confidence in his own judgment, and has reasserted the control due his office. Another way to do so is to separate the perspectives according to form and substance: in other words, in terms of the substance of his policies, Bush functions as a ring-bearer for agendas developed by others, but that in terms of the formal mechanisms of power and decision, Bush is entirely his own man, and very much in control.

Personally, I find the latter interpretation more plausible given what we know about Bush's background and character: a Gentleman-C party boy deeply in tune with the mechanics of the family business.

1 comment:

rmockler said...

The whole Bush as puppet idea allows the left to feel smugly superior that they would never elect such an idiot. But it also has the effect of absolving Bush from any responsibility for anything. Yet another failure of the left in the message wars. It's telling that the best politician in a generation, Bubba Clinton, warned early on that Bush was no dummy.