Saturday, December 09, 2006

Miserable failure
This is interesting.
On the eve of a report that repudiates his son’s leadership, former president George H.W. Bush broke down crying when he recalled how his other son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, lost an election a dozen years ago and then came back to serve two successful terms...

The setting was a leadership summit Monday in Tallahassee, where the elder Bush had come to lecture and to pay homage to Jeb, who is leaving office with a 53 percent approval rating, putting him ninth among the 50 governors in popularity. The former president was reflecting on how well Jeb handled defeat in 1994 when he lost his composure. “He didn’t whine about it,” he said, putting a handkerchief to his face in an effort to stifle his sobbing.

That election turned out to be pivotal because it disrupted the plan Papa Bush had for his sons, which may be why he was crying, and why the country cries with him. The family’s grand design had the No. 2 son, Jeb, by far the brighter and more responsible, ascend to the presidency while George, the partying frat-boy type, settled for second best in Texas. The plan went awry when Jeb, contrary to conventional wisdom, lost in Florida, and George unexpectedly defeated Ann Richards in Texas. With the favored heir on the sidelines, the family calculus shifted. They’d go for the presidency with the son that won and not the one they wished had won.

The son who was wrongly launched has made such a mess of things that he has ruined the family franchise. Without getting too Oedipal, it’s fair to say that so many mistakes George W. Bush made are the result of his need to distinguish himself from his father and show that he’s smarter and tougher. His need to outdo his father and at the same time vindicate his father’s failure to get re-elected makes for a complicated stew of emotions.


The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by [family fixer James] Baker, pulls no punches in calling Bush’s policies a failure. It’s a statement of the obvious, but when you have a collection of Washington wise men, plus retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor (perhaps doing penance for her vote that put Bush in the White House during the disputed 2000 race), it’s the equivalent of last rites for Bush’s Iraq policy, along with his presidency.


He’s an accidental president, a man who was vaulted into a job he wasn’t prepared for, and who treated war like a lark. Bush’s father observed between sobs in his Florida speech, “A true measure of a man is how you handle victory and how you handle defeat.” He was talking about Jeb, but surely it’s his first-born who triggers the tears.

This is not so much interesting to me because of the content. It's not a new interpretation. I've been pushing this interpretation since I started blogging, and I don't claim that it is original to me. Many other bloggers interpret the Bush presidency as an Oedipal tragedy. I find it interesting because of the source: Newsweek magazine. What was once the provenance of whacked-out, Bush-hating bloggers is now inside-the-beltway conventional wisdom.

It's taken a long time for them to catch up with the rest of us. If the keepers of the conventional wisdom had accepted what was obvious to the rest of us a few years sooner, they might have stopped the Bush melodrama in 2004 and saved hundreds of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqis. I suppose late is better than never, unless you are one of those dead Americans, Iraqis, their families, or friends.

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