A View From the Cheap Seats

June 25, 2008

How to Judge the Man?

Filed under: Election,Iraq,Politics — trzupek @ 8:26 am
Tags: , , , ,


By Rich Trzupek

What are we to make of this President?

He came into office at a time of crisis, or – more properly – the crisis followed closely behind. At first, he was applauded for his leadership, as all Presidents are during the first throes of national emergency.

But, as is almost always equally the case, the applause soon settled into a stony, impatient silence that evolved into mumbling and grumbling, followed quickly by the inevitable cries of despair and, above all, rage.

He was universally reviled by the opposition party and by many of his fellow Republicans as well. What were once electable virtues became, upon further examination by his many critics, damnable failings.

He was transformed (almost overnight it seemed) from a plain-spoken, inherently honest everyman, full of common sense, into something at best laughable and, at worst, sinister.

The nation lamented for not seeing it sooner. The opposition reveled in his discomfort, or rather, what they assumed to be his discomfort, for it was never clear that he cared about popular approval. He had a mission and he was single-minded about achieving it. Nothing would dissuade him from his goal, a fact that he would freely admit. His critics saw this as vanity. His supporters, few as they were, called it perseverance.

The media had a field day with this President. He was routinely mocked by editorial writers and opinion makers. They mocked his manner of speech, his dress, his wife, his faith and his birthplace. They questioned his military service, with some writers openly wondering if he had even served at all.

He never claimed to have been in combat, and this was further evidence of his arrogance. How could he send young men to die when he had never been close to a battlefield himself?

Cartoonists sometimes portrayed him as a primate, and although every public figure is surely fair game for caricature (with the exception of a certain middle-eastern prophet, of course), there was something especially mean-spirited – sadly so – in these drawings.

He was variously portrayed as an imbecile and as a huckster, sometimes both, which is an impossible combination, at least in my book. He was criticized as a speaker as well, and many Americans were embarrassed to have such a boor quoted in overseas capitals.

Others said that he was in fact clever, in his own way, but that this cleverness did not equate to wisdom. Rather, his was a mean, sniveling shrewdness; he had both the skills and morals of a con-man, they said. Just look at the way he surrounds himself with other darkly shrewd men. His bumbling “country boy” persona was all an act, they assured us. It was just cover for the calculating evil that lay within.

He routinely flouted the Constitution, as part of combating the crisis. People were imprisoned, though they had not been charged with a crime. The Supreme Court ordered him to produce writs of Habeas Corpus or let these prisoners go. He ignored the judges. He employed a cadre of spies to determine the intentions of his enemies and, in some cases, of his friends.

His told his critics that a President had both the right and the duty to bend parts of the Constitution in order to protect liberty in desperate times. They despaired to hear it. His actions, they were certain, would not protect freedom, but were the first step on the road to a totalitarian state.

They were especially incensed when he seemed to play a shell game with the very reason for entering into the conflict in the first place. At first he said that the safety of the nation was at stake. Then, a couple years into the conflict, it wasn’t that at all. He now explained that this war was a crusade to bring freedom to an oppressed people.

“See what a liar he is!” the critics cried. “He can’t even decide why we’re fighting. He’s a fraud!” The President patiently tried to explain that the two goals were not mutually exclusive – that the spread of freedom would better secure the foundations of the nation – that the latter goal complimented the former, it did not supersede it. Few people paid attention to such convoluted logic.

It was war time and, as they always do in war time, merchants got rich. Many were honest, some were not and, inevitably some of the dishonest ones had ties of this sort or that to the President or his inner circle. There were military failures, as there are always are in a protracted conflict, and there were bad generals, incompetent advisors and mistakes in strategy. There were, in other words, all of the usual impediments and mistakes that democracies face when they go to war and, as they always have been, these failures and perceived failures were placed – justly – at the feet of the President.

He corrected what he could and endured what he must, knowing that the one contribution that he had to make, that indeed he alone could make, was to exert his will to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion, no matter how long it took. He was indifferent to the cries of party, the nation and the heads of state across the seas who all assured him that the bloodshed could end, and should end, if only he would stop fighting. Once America withdrew, America would have peace.

This he would not do, and he was hated for it.

Elected by a minority of the electorate in his first term, he was not expected to win a second, so badly had he mismanaged the conflict, in the eyes of his many, many critics. Somehow, he was re-elected though, to the amazement and despair of his legions of enemies.

We will leave his story there, for you probably know the rest of it. And I’m not sure how you feel about this particular President but, in my opinion, this man – Abraham Lincoln – was one helluva leader.

“No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.” Ronald Wilson Reagan



  1. Excellent article Rich. I want to get some of my thoughts about our current President out of my “right-wing nutjob” cranium.

    How do you illegally invade and occupy a country with Congressional consent exactly. Remember Kerry and his infamous I voted for the war in Iraq before I voted against it.

    Lets go back in time a bit shall we to 9/11/01 we had planes crash into the WTC, The Pentagon and the one heading to the White House go down in Pennsylvania. Now this was a real eye opener that we can be attacked on our soil. So we go after Al Quaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Now honestly I think Bush wasn’t thinking about oil when he decided to invade Iraq, he was thinking that we need to stop reacting and start acting or we will continue to get attacked.

    Saddam was step one because he was weakened but easily could become a threat again and he wouldn’t hesitate to come after us if he could. Whether he had WMDs or not is up for debate, but we did find out he used chemical weapons on the Kurds and found large amounts of mass graves in this country, not exactly a good guy.

    Some intelligence said he had them and some said he didn’t but I think any intelligence from the UN is suspect, considering we found out that they had their finger in the pie with the oil for food scandal, how quickly we forget that little fact, believe me these countries had a vested interest of no one invading that country.

    Now onto the torture thing let me put a moral quandary up before you. If you were a FBI agent and lets say you have very good intelligence that a group of terrorists have a nuclear device and are determined to set it off in the middle of a major American city and kill 100,000 people within the next couple of days, now you are able to capture one of the terrorists now you question him and he will not give you any information, what do you do? If you torture him he may talk and you save 100,000 people or you choose the “morally” correct side and just continue the useless questioning and he won’t talk and you have 100,000 dead on your head.

    It sounds like a something from 24 but its something to think about.

    These are the type of moral quandaries that our servicemen and president face on a day to day basis, if these guys aren’t going to talk they have to make them talk or people will die. As far as torture goes our methods are pretty tame.

    Torture is one of those things that every country does but doesn’t admit to. Why do you think Congress pretty much ignored the whole thing and didn’t push it because it would open up a huge can of worms of our torture methods throughout history.

    I know there are studies that say torture isn’t a reliable way to get information and I can find a study that says cigarettes are safe, so. Most studies are made to reinforce someones beliefs, thats why you will see Church studies say homosexuality is ruining America. They just make them sound scientific and factual so that stupid people believe them.

    If torture was so unreliable then why has it been use for 1000s of years you would think someone would of realized they got way too much bad info from it by now.

    Its real easy to be all morally superior while your sitting on your — in front of your computer screen all safe and warm, while others who are confronted with life and death decisions every single day and have to make the call for the good of our country whether it meets you moral standards or not.

    Few have a clue what the pressure our President has faced and he did what he thought was right. History will determine whether he did right or wrong in this case.

    Comment by Wild Bill — June 25, 2008 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  2. Bill,

    Thank ya kindly for a thoughtful, provocative post. The torture issue is real tough one for me, and I don’t know that I’ve got a real position on it. The “1 vs. 100,000 lives” argument that you raise is compelling, of course. If I’m in “Jack Bauer’s” shoes at a moment such as you describe, I’m not sure that my gentlemanly or humanitarian virtues would win out. Or, if the life of a loved one was at stake, I’m quite certain that I they would not.

    All of that said, when you look at the issue from the comfortable armchair of theory, there is something very troubling about attempting to further the cause of civilization by behaving in a thoroughly uncivilized manner. This is, as the Brits say (or used to say) a very sticky wicket indeed. I am glad that I am not in a position to have to make these decisions. Deciding which unruly kid gets to pick out the movie is quite enough of a challenge for this tall Polack, thank you.

    Yet, here we are, you and I discussing this issue in a reasonable, entirely civilized tone — attempting to make some sense of what is a complex battle between competing moral obligations. How different that is from the hectoring and finger-wagging that the holier-than-everyone critics engage in.

    On an entirely unrelated note, do take the time to look at Comment #8 (written in response to Comment #6) on my “Tribunal of the Century” post. It is truly a thing of beauty – I almost wet my pants laughing. Wait – I did!! Gotta go…



    Comment by trzupek — June 25, 2008 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

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