Saturday, October 22, 2005

They Seldom Limp and Quack This Early

Sometimes The Economist comes up with some hilarious stuff.  Unfortunately, this howler is subscription-only, but perhaps a few quotes will convey the idea.


Et tu, Brute?

Oct 20th 2005
From The Economist print edition

The waning of the imperial presidency

[...] Mr Bush has turned himself into the most powerful president since Richard Nixon, whose “Imperial Presidency” was anatomised by Arthur Schlesinger in 1973. Mr Bush and his consuls came into office determined to restore the prerogatives of the chief executive (Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were particularly zealous, having served in Gerald Ford's post-Nixon, tethered presidency). Even before September 11th 2001, they took every opportunity to concentrate power in the executive branch, but after the terrorist attacks Mr Bush's advisers seized on the crisis to restore the imperial presidency to its full purple—so much so that Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, complained that they treated Congress as a mere “appendage”. [...]

As Andrew Rudalevige points out in “The New Imperial Presidency”, all presidents have tried to erode the post-Watergate constraints on them; Mr Bush didn't so much erode them as blow them out of existence.

Now, however, Mr Bush is beset by woes on all fronts. Five separate polls this month have put his job approval-rating below 40%. And the emperor's Praetorian Guard is terrified that Patrick Fitzgerald, a special prosecutor, may indict leading members of the administration.

All second-term presidents become lame ducks (though they seldom limp and quack this early). [...]
Despite the humorous turns of phrase, the article is a serious one.  They point out that, in response to a series of political missteps, Congress and the Supreme Court are acting to reign in the Executive Branch.  Not only that, but religious conservatives and fiscal conservatives are breaking ranks as well.  And, FINALLY, the American press is loosing faith in the President:
But the most vigorous opposition will come less from Congress (where the Republican majority is still tied to the president) than from the fourth estate. There is a noticeable mood of shame in the Washington press corps: shame that it failed to ask tough questions about weapons of mass destruction; shame that it was not quick enough to dig into the murky world of lobbying; shame that it was used to smear critics of the Iraq war. That shame is congealing into a desire for revenge. The press will be asking a lot more hard questions—and this time it will find eager sources among disillusioned conservatives.
The Economist doesn't adequately address one interesting question, though: Exactly what happened to turn the press against the President?  Is it true that the press has turned against Bush because of their own shame?  Perhaps that would explain the about-face of a few reporters.  But with the exception of Fox News (HT: For Real Things I Know), it seems that most media outlets are rushing to criticize the Administration; it is not just a few reporters.  A more comprehensive explanation is needed.

The shame was just the beginning.  This was highlighted when bloggers called attention to the Downing Street Memo.  The mainstream media did their best to ignore it, as the White House still had control of the media's agenda.  Then Cindy Sheehan's campaign captivated the media, causing the White House to loose control over the media.  Sheehan's campaign also made it acceptable to at least mention criticism of Bush, even if that criticism was not wholeheartedly endorsed.  It was this sequence of events that set the stage for the transformation of the media, from Bush's lapdog, to Bush's gadfly.

With the stage set, there came an avalanche of bad news: investigations and indictments, hurricanes, mismanagement of just about everything, the quagmirization of Iraq, deficit spending, environmental stupidity, propaganda revealed, and a bunch of other stuff, perhaps culminating with the Commission of Inquiry on Crimes of the Bush Administration.  With the media free to set their own agenda, and the prohibition against criticism of Bush lifted, it was not possible for the White House to manage the reporting on these events.  Thus, it was not merely the shame of reporters who had failed to question the War, that led to the media turning against the President.  If that had been the only factor, the Presidency would have its Imperial splendor still intact.

Categories: politics, armchair musings
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I don't think that on balance it makes sense to give "the media" either so much credit or blame about this situation -- they have enough problem with their egos as it is.

President Bush Sr. lost the presidency years ago because he showed increasing insensitivity to issues which mattered to people.

His son has come in wanting to vent a righteous vengeance on those who "wronged" his father (eg, Saddam Hussein), and yet shows his own version of insensitivity to those whose views differ from his own.

He came into his second term with an attitude -- "Now I can do anything I want" and aside from perhaps showing his true colors, his administration seems to be showing us the extent of their collective intelligence (or lack thereof). All sorts of appointments come only from a small circle of close friends, so that even internal dissention is minimized. Even highly intelligent presidents suffer from isolation and too many yes-men and yes-women.
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