Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dissing The President, Vol I and Vol II

It is not true that President and Mrs. Obama called out, "Don't let the helicopter door hit you in the ass on the way out!" to President and Mrs. Bush as they left the Capitol on Marine One [above] after Tuesday's inauguration.

For all the pageantry of Tuesday's inauguration of President Obama, there were still a few examples of good, old fashion pissing contests on display for the world to see. One was behind the scenes, but one was out in the open, delivered in such moderation of tone that it took hours for anyone to even notice it had occurred.

First, the behind the scenes incident. We all have people we have to deal with from time to time for whom we wouldn't piss down their throats if their hearts were on fire. Such is the relationship between former Presidents Clinton and Carter. Don't believe me? Check out this exchange at the Capitol on Tuesday as the former living Presidents were lined up to make their entrance onto the platform. My favorite part is the millisecond where Carter and Clinton are face-to-face with nowhere to look, but at each other. Carter simply breezes right on by. Classic.

For his part, Carter denies that there was any snub. He told ABC News that he had just spent "thirty minutes" talking with Clinton prior to the incident and simply wanted to make sure he said hello to President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, before heading out onto the platform. Watch the video again and you decide. Looks to me like Clinton and Carter would sooner eat their own feet than say hello to one another.

And this isn't the first time - just this month - that Carter has raised eyebrows with his reaction to Clinton. Back on January 7th, when all the living presidents gathered in the Oval Office for a luncheon with then-President-elect Obama, reporters noted that Carter refused to stand next to Clinton, continuously moving inches away from him throughout the photo opportunity. It became so awkward that, at the end, Clinton clumsily tried to make conversation with the president on his right - George W. Bush - with the asinine comment, "I love this rug."

But the Carter-Clinton rumble was a mere sideshow. Out in the open, with the subject of his criticism sitting no more than ten feet away from him, President Obama delivered a subtle lambasting of his immediate predecessor - George W. Bush - in his inaugural address. Indeed, it marked the first time since the chilly [and I'm not talking about the weather] ceremony in 1933, where newly sworn-in President Franklin Roosevelt performed a vivisection on the departing President Herbert Hoover while the latter sat and visibly stewed on the platform.

FDR's criticisms were direct, but Obama's were no less pointed even though delivered with a velvet glove. There were the obvious barbs - for example, Obama's promise, "We will restore science to its rightful place", and, in speaking of the economic crisis, "this crisis reminds us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control" - but there were other arrows within the address, all aimed at Bush. For instance, when Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly rebuking some of the basic tenets of Bush's tenure.

As Obama recited the litany of things that have gone wrong on Bush's watch, you have to believe that Bush was in a state of shock - after all, he has not been in the habit of being forced to sit and listen while he is taken to task for the negatives of his presidency. In fact, what initially looked like a warm sign of affection - Bush's hugging Obama after the latter finished his address - may now be seen in a different light: perhaps Bush told Obama to, "go fuck yourself". Although that seems more in Dick Cheney's style of vulgarity than Bush's. Since Cheney was confined to a wheelchair [the rumor that he broke his ankle while kicking a puppy could not be corroborated], maybe Bush was delivering Cheney's message for him.

Can't wait for the next presidential reunion.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hello, 44

President Obama had quite a day. So did the Nation. Tuesday, January 20, 2009, will no doubt long be remembered long after we're all dead and gone. Like everyone, I looked on in amazement at the events of the day. We've known, obviously, for 77 days that this day was coming. Even so, knowing it and seeing it are two very different things.

Obama's Inaugural Address was crisp, to the point and typical of what we've come to expect from him. With the exception of Chief Justice John Roberts' inexplicable fuck up of the Oath of Office, the day was flawless. Even there, though, Obama demonstrated his calm and cool demeanor, quickly helping Roberts recover.

Many analogies have been drawn between Obama and President Kennedy. Others have remembered Franklin Roosevelt and the economy he inherited in 1933. I would argue, however, that what Obama is facing is greater than that which challenged either FDR or JFK. In fact, Obama is facing a combination of what those two men faced 30 years apart. While FDR had an economy mired in Depression, there were no foreign threats to the country. And while JFK was faced with a red-hot Cold War and very real Soviet threat, his economy - while not at the sky-high level of the earlier Eisenhower years - was nowhere near what we would call poor. Well, President Obama is facing Roosevelt's economy and Kennedy's foreign crisis - at the same time.

First, since he appears to be ok, we can joke about Senator Edward M. Kennedy [D, Mass] trying to steal some of the limelight from Obama by becoming ill during the Inaugural Luncheon. Ironically, I was amazed earlier in the day at just how robust Kennedy looked on the platform. Kennedy has been on the platform for every presidential inauguration since 1961 - the year President Obama was born. Kennedy, of course, played no small role in Obama even being there: it was Kennedy's early endorsement of the Illinois senator that first propelled his candidacy from the realm of fantasy to the reality of today.

Not since the Senator's brother was sworn into office has a new president so captivated Washington, and the country. His combination of youthful energy, steel resolve, calm demeanor and self-deprecating sense of humor all recall the last U.S. Senator elected to the presidency, too. Certainly there was a great deal of excitement about President Clinton in 1993. But that was pre-9/11, pre-Depression [I've decided this is no longer a recession, but is in fact a Depression with a capital 'D']. In fact, we were all still kind of heady in 1993 with the end of the Cold War. While the economy was lousy in 1993, it had already started to pick back up to it's pre-1991 levels. So, while there was excitement, there was also a sense that all was well in the country.

Not so, today. Certainly the analogies can be drawn between Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama in what they inherited upon being inaugurated. From an economic standpoint, FDR's challenge was more difficult. As terrible as 7.4% unemployment is, imagine 12%-15% unemployment. That was FDR's inheritance upon taking office.

So, faced with challenges on economic and foreign policy fronts, our new president reports to work on Wednesday. May he have the strength and wisdom he will need in the years ahead.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye, 43

Perhaps the single greatest moment of his presidency: Bush rallies rescue workers in downtown Manhattan, September 14, 2001 [above].

On Tuesday, of course, the nation marks the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States - and the first African American to hold the office. It is normal, after eight years of looking at the same guy, to grow weary of a president. By the time his two terms are up, you pretty much want him to go away. This was true of Ronald Reagan by late-1988. The American public had been 'Gippered Out' and what had seemed like charming aloofness in 1983 now looked like a senile mentally unbalanced astrology-nut. Same with Bill Clinton. By late-2000, America had had enough of the lying, the blurring of truth vs bullshit, and the shit-eating grin that told you, "Yep. Got away with that one, too."

So now we have one of the most unpopular presidents leaving office next week. George W. Bush is suffering from Reaganitis/Clintonitis to the nth power. Watching him give his farewell address on Thursday night, it was hard not to notice that it seems that Bush has finally begun to grasp just how unpopular he really is. He made some good points on Thursday. The most poignant - and one that too many people forget - is that 9/11 changed everything. That there has been no terrorist attack on U.S. soil since then, and that it is largely because of that fact that we're even having this debate about how bad Bush really was. For, had there been another attack or attacks after 9/11, no one would be worried about waterboarding, Guantanamo, Iraq or Katrina.

This is not a blog to absolve Bush of anything. I didn't vote for the man in 2000, but I have to admit I grudgingly liked him. I thought he'd be a great guy to have a beer with and shoot the shit, but not a great president. I wasn't all that enamored with his opponent, Al Gore, either. Gore was a victim of Clintonitis and that 2000 election should never have been that close to begin with. Had Gore not had to deal with America's disgust with eight years of Clinton, the Supreme Court would never have had a chance to steal the presidency away from him.

By Inauguration Day 2001, I was just anxious to get a president in there. I never got as worked up as others had over the 'stolen' election. I knew about similar elections in 1876 - when essentially Rutherford Hayes was declared the winner in return for Republicans agreeing to end Reconstruction. Or in 1888 when President Grover Cleveland secured more votes than his opponent but lost in the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison. Not to mention the election of 1824, where Andrew Jackson clearly was the popular choice but John Quincy Adams secured the office when the outcome fell to the House of Representatives to decide.

No, to me 2000 was another one of those quirky things we get in a representative democracy - deal with it. For the first few months of Bush's tenure, I rooted for him if for no other reason than he was the only president we had. My feelings about him, though, were ambivalent.

That changed on 9/11. The first week after that tragedy was some of the finest leadership ever demonstrated in the White House. With the exception of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, no other president has ever had to deal with what George W. Bush did. Lincoln and Roosevelt didn't have CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, Al Jazeera, the Internet, and all the other wonders of information transmission, either. Had there been a CNN in 1864, Lincoln would never have been reelected, for example.

But the way Bush handled himself and the crisis in that first week was amazing. He took a great deal of grief for continuing to read to those schoolchildren in that Florida classroom after Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him of the two planes hitting the Twin Towers. The Left painted him as some bumbling idiot who didn't realize we were at war; who was too stupid to fully understand the magnitude of what was happening. In fact, to me Bush did exactly what he should have done. With a room full of children - and a bank of television cameras filming - an abrupt departure from the scene would have been wrong. Rather than demonstrating the severity of what had happened, Bush was determined to finish what the children had expected him to do, and then to calmly excuse himself early from the room, where he could begin the painful assessment of what happened.

From that moment through the quintessential picture of his presidency - standing with rescue workers in New York shouting into a bullhorn, "I hear you! And pretty soon, the whole world is gonna hear from you as well!" Many tried to paint it as a contrived scene, created specifically for cameras. On the contrary, it was a real-life, genuine reaction captured for millions to see: a man who at the age of nearly 40 was an alcoholic ne'er do-well son of a soon-to-be-president, who spent the next 15 years transforming himself into a political operative for his father, to Texas governor, to President of the United States, who now shouldered the responsibility of an attack on American soil - something only James Madison, Lincoln and FDR had ever experienced - was expressing his genuine feelings to a nation that was wounded. It was truly an amazing moment.

After that, of course, things didn't go quite as well. While the initial war in Afghanistan was successful, and the war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction looked - in 20/20 hindsight - to be a mistake, and Katrina, and any of the myriad of other mistakes largely wiped out any good feelings Bush had generated.

But it's important to remember what the world was like on September 12, 2001. How scared we all were. If I had told you on that day that - through January 16, 2009 - that there would be no other single attack on U.S. soil, would you have believed me? I wouldn't have believed me either. It was in that environment of fear that the U.S. Senate passed the Patriot Act by the razor-thin margin of 98-1 It was in that environment that Bush decided that he would do whatever it took - including questionably legal methods - to prevent such an attack.

It is easy now to cast a negative judgement on those decisions. But it is important that we never forget the environment in which those decisions were made. And it fell to Bush to make them - a burden unlike any but a few presidents have ever had to deal with.

I think his handling of Katrina was borderline criminal. His rape and pillaging of the English language abominable. And his smug, I-know-better-than-you-do tone, body language and facial expressions were maddening. But even with all of that, I will never forget the way George W. Bush handled 9/11 , and the reassurance he gave the country. And neither should his other detractors.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.