Monday, April 25, 2005

The Arafat of Midland, Texas

Don't miss this fascinating article on how Bush is radically changing his personal style toward Congress in his attempt to persuade them to abolish Social Security.

Say what you will about the substantive merits of abolishing Social Security, what this article shows is Bush's flexibility as a politician. In his first term, with the Republican ideological movement at its most unified and forceful, Bush laid his proposals on the table and told Congress, in so many words, "I'm not here to debate you." Bush recognized when it came to things his Party was unified around and knew how to sell to its constituents -- such as appropriations for wars of choice (a "war on terror"!) or tax cuts for the rich ("middle-class tax cuts"!) -- it made no sense to engage in consulting sessions: one could get a lot more done by simply giving firm orders. He expected the rubber stamp, and he got it

But now that he's pushing himself and his Party into doing things that the vast majority of the country opposes, like abolishing Social Security and an independent judiciary, Bush is proving himself capable of (at least attempting) the art of persuasion. In short, in addition to being able to strongarm people, it turns out that he's also capable of wheedling and cajoling.

There's a couple ways to look at what this tells you about Bush as a leader and as a human being. First, you can look at it in a positive light. While no one's ever going to claim Bush is the sharpest ax in the shed, he is also undeniably a shrewd political operator, capable of taking different approaches to different problems. He's not simply a hammer who only sees nails in the world, but in fact has a number of political tools on his belt. It shows he's flexible.

The flip side (or rather, the "flip-flop" side) of that flexibility is that compromising with Bush is idiotic. Bush considers a conciliatory attitude -- like the one the Democrats had in much of the first term with Bush -- an invitation to executive imperiousness, an open offer to let him (very literally) lay down the law. He sees people who come to the table willing to negotiate as weaklings who can and should be told what to do. On the other hand, if you stand firm against the guy, then it is he who adopts the compromising, flexible attitude.

In the hood, there's a term for people who behave like this. To paraphrase Bush's momma, it rhymes with rich.

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