Friday, April 21, 2006

The Bottom of the Barrel
I hope you read the article I linked to yesterday by historian Sean Wilentz, writing in the latest Rolling Stone. His article, "The Worst President in History?", compares the personality traits and governing characteristics of He Who Shall Not Be Named to the presidents who are traditionally ranked among the worst: Buchanan, Harding, Grant, Hoover, Andrew Johnson. Because once you've read that, you'll be interested in reading John Dean's "If past is prologue, George Bush is becoming an increasingly dangerous president." Dean puts Bush on the couch using the work of political scientist James David Barber, whose analysis of character traits and attitudes toward the work of being president allowed him to predict Richard Nixon's second-term self-destruction two years before it happened.

By Barber's typography, Bush is an "active/negative" president--he does a lot, but he doesn't like the job very much. This is demonstrated, Dean says, by his inability to do the work of persuasion that presidents must do to govern effectively--demonstrated by earlier this week when he explained that Donald Rumsfeld would remain as defense secretary because "I'm the decider, and I decide."
Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused - or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.

Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.

Bush is following the classic mistaken pattern of active/negative presidents: As Barber explained, they issue order after order, without public support, until they eventually dissipate the real powers they have -- until "nothing [is] left but the shell of the office." Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all followed this pattern.
Active/negative presidents are risk-takers, and once they've taken a risk, they stick with it beyond reason. Think Wilson, driving himself to a debilitating stroke on a whistle-stop speaking tour to sell his stillborn League of Nations. Think Nixon saying, "I want you to stonewall it . . . whatever it takes to save the plan." Think Iraq. Dean predicts that with his back against the wall and his presidency lost if the Democrats retake Congress, Bush will take yet another risk to save his bacon. Think Iran.

The Dean link comes from Smirking Chimp, which also contains a column today by Chris Floyd about the likely toll of a nuclear strike on Iran. It's probably not the kind of thing you'd like to read as you head into the weekend--according to the Pentagon's own estimates, a strike limited only to the main underground site at Esfahan would leave three million dead of radiation poisoning in two weeks, plus 35 million exposed to cancer-causing levels of radiation as far away as Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

Homework for the wekeend: In the wake of what would be the greatest crime in the history of mankind, what do you think Americans would do and say?

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