2008-07-26

Sometimes, I hate being right.

Eight years is a long time; about 1/10 of an American life span, and I'll bet you already know where this post is going. As I look at this year's Presidential race, I've spent a lot of time thinking about past races; specifically the ones in which I've voted. With the benefit of hindsight, it's enlightening to look back at what I thought then and compare it with how things have gone.

So, the 2000 election reminds me a great deal of the 2008 election. The outgoing President was unpopular, there were economic rumblings on the horizon, and I wasn't wowed by either candidate. In fact, I was downright worried by both of them. One seemed stiff, and out of touch, the other a bumbling country boy. In the end, I marginally favored the stuffy guy, despite serious reservations. In the end, it didn't really matter who I liked anyway, because my state was only going to go one way.

So, eight years later, it is interesting to look back at some of my misgiving about the man who would eventually become President. It's sad to say that I was right about some of them:
  • Nepotism and cronyism: coming from an entitled upbringing with the attached good ole' boy mentality, I was concerned that Bush, rather than picking the best person for the job, would select advisers that most agreed with him. A certain amount of this is to be expected with any political office, but I think that a truly savvy politician will also bring in people of differing opinions and skills to create a well rounded administration. When Collin Powell, an internationally respected individual, departed as Secretary of State and Condoleeza Rice, a mediocre NSA chief, was selected as replacement, I realized that Bush was surrounded himself with "yes" men. Bush's failure in this area reached its apex when he nominated the woefully unqualified Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. I think that the WMD debacle resulted largely from Bush's cronyism, as well as a woefully unprepared FEMA after hurricane Katrina.
  • Ties to oil: the Bush family is well known for its ties to the oil business. Ties to any industry don't inherently make anyone unsuitable for office, but you have to accept a certain amount of deference to that industry while they're in office. In this case, Bush's oil and related energy policies have recently proved disastrous. The industry is enjoying record profits from record prices, which are contributing to the overall slowing of the economy. A more enlightened policy regarding energy, like updated mpg requirements and tighter environmental controls on electrical production might have actually spurred development in alternative fuels and energy as world oil supplies became inevitably tight.
  • Foreign policy: as governor of Texas, one's foreign policy experience is limited largely to Mexico. And, to his credit, President Bush has does well, I think, with our neighbor to the south and immigration policy (though Congress wasn't helpful.) Worldwide, though, gaining a reputation as a bully was certainly not desirable. Though I think we must always act in our own self defense without waiting for international consensus, we must do so considerately and conscientiously. The younger Bush could have learned a great deal from his father in this area, who very delicately handled the collapsing Soviet Union and the first withdrawal from Iraq. Back then, Cheney as Sec. Def., provided a compelling analysis of what would happen in Iraq if Saddam was deposed: sectarian violence and political instability that would require an occupying force. I don't understand, why, then, we were so unprepared for what was going to happen. Needless to say that greater international support might have drastically altered the course of the conflict, particularly given the massive civilian casualties that have resulted in Iraq.
  • Church and State: while I admire President Bush for being a man of faith, I saw his use of the evangelical vote as a double edged sword. I feared that his mixing of religion and politics could have undesirable consequences. This was realized by the failure of many of his faith based initiatives. Though a cause and effect relationship is certainly hard to establish, I find it extremely interesting that teen pregnancy rates have increased (abstinence only sex ed, anyone?) and abortion rates have not fallen. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become significantly more conservative as it has to court the increasingly vocal and fickle evangelical vote.
  • Fiscal/Economic policy: though Republicans are generally thought to be fiscally conservative, their hawkish natures and continual desire to cut taxes frequently have the opposite effect. Bush seemed to fall right in line in this area. It was amazing to me that facing a recession, he elected to increase spending while cutting taxes and sending the nation to war. This ballooned the deficit, lowered confidence in American industry abroad, and began to slow the economic engine of the country. Couple this with the deflation of the housing market, and I think that the current administration shoulders a great deal of responsbility for our current predicament. It wouldn't suprise me too much if we soon find that laissez faire enforcement of the housing market contributed to our current situation.
  • Intelligence: simply put, I thought Bush wasn't smart enough to be President. I'm not talking about his minor gaffes that made for comedy routine fodder, since those things happen to everyone, but I do think that being President requires a truly significant intellect. The economy, foreign policy, and budgetary matters are extraordinarily complex. No amount of bravado, charm, or humor can mask a failure to understand the issues. I think Bush's failings fundamentally stem from this, particularly in dealing with the economy and the budget deficit.
So, this may sound like a huge round of "I told you so", but that's not my intent at all. Nor am I trying to jump on the Bush bashing bandwagon. Instead, these are the things that genuinely concerned me about the candidate. There's no doubt that a similar list could have been made had Al Gore been president. In the end, your concerns regarding a Presidential candidate will almost certainly manifest themselves when the person is in office. Though the extent of such manifestations are totally unknowable, we can at least look at the curent state of the nation to see which flaws would hurt us the most.