How far we’ve strayed
U.S. presidents – famously the most powerful people in the world while in office – have become a study in caricature at home. As badly and as full of partisan bile as we’ve come to view the latest two mirror images of each other, the reflection casts poorest on us.
Look what we’ve done to our past two presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The similarities between these two begin and end with half the country hating their guts and the other half blithely ignoring their all-too obvious flaws while defending them as saints.
They each have become the epitome of what is wrong or right with their parties and ideologies. To a degree, it was always thus with presidents, given their stature. With these two, though, it’s symbolism on steroids.
Clinton is viewed as brilliant yet deeply flawed morally. Bush is morally straight but, well, kind of dumb.
Clinton was scattered, disorganized, always readjusting, never getting much of consequence done. Bush is focused, fixated, too locked in to consider a better idea.
Bush is the party boy turned serious, Clinton the serious youth who became a party boy.
Clinton, who grew up poor, likes to hang with the celebrities in places like the Hamptons. Bush, the rich kid, likes nothing more than driving his battered pickup on his scrubby central Texas ranch with an evangelistic preacher and maybe a hound dog for company.
Bush is the toady for industry, especially the oil industry, tearing down environmental protections just as fast as he can, though in at least some eyes he’s pragmatically more effective in solving the root problems. Clinton was the darling of Hollywood, prone to feel-good fiats that brought ruination to rural economies and weren’t perhaps so great for the environment, either.
Clinton liked to look good. Bush seeks to do good, though his sense of “good” may not quite square with folks who don’t keep a dog-eared Bible on the nightstand.
The Clinton administration was staffed with immature brats. The Bush administration is perhaps a bit too mature, filled with rigid retreads from an earlier era.
Clinton speaks elegantly and at length, sometimes losing his audience. Bush struggles to make himself plain, and while he gets right to the point, sometimes it’s not quite the point he aimed to make.
Jokes often focus on Bush butchering the English language. They used to emphasize Clinton’s exceedingly fine linguistic points and exquisite definitions for such words as “is.”
Bush is the tough talkin’ cowboy ready to deliver justice, faulted for rushing to action. Clinton was busy feeling our pain, ever the diplomat faulted for never truly getting tough and then running if things went bad.
Oh, both escaped combat in the definitive crisis of their youth, the Vietnam War, which Bush ostensibly supported and Clinton overtly opposed. Bush served in the Air National Guard, never leaving America. Clinton toyed with dashing for Canada and wound up studying abroad on a Rhodes scholarship.
Both presidencies have had their highs and lows. Both men have made their share of mistakes, and neither is likely to go down in history for any particular greatness.
Clinton has the longest upcycle in economic history to his credit, and Monica to drag it all down. Bush, thus far, has post-9/11 resolve and Afghanistan to his credit, and bungling Iraq to drag it all down.
Clinton was reviled for raising taxes to save the economy. Bush is reviled for cutting taxes to save the economy. Ironically enough, both moves worked – well, unless you are in the opposite partisan camp, in which case no credit ever shall be dispensed. Otherwise you are betraying your “team,” never mind the simple truth, which has grown ever more politicized in its own right.
Of course, this is everyday life in the Beltway. But I had an eye-opening reminder that this infection has spread well into our hinterlands after writing a column recently about the obvious opportunism of Richard Clarke’s best-selling jibes at Bush over terrorism and Iraq, while also acknowledging there is something to be concerned about in Bush’s handling of Iraq in particular.
Those who carry their anti-Bush playbook tucked under an arm were quick to hit the keyboard before apparently reading far enough to understand I wasn’t exactly lauding the president. The local GOPers by now know better than to trust Rogers to hew to their program, either. For them, it was “there goes that … liberal editor again.”
You see, increasingly it seems, Clinton was either always wrong or always right, and the same with Bush. Never mind that this makes absolutely no sense in reality.
To an even more appalling degree than ever, “truth” is hardly to be found in politics at all. That’s sad, and it’s dangerous. It’s also our fault as citizens. We’ve let them get away with it, either by tuning them out (which is understandable) or buying into the BS that’s corroded our otherwise good judgment. Most likely it’s a bit of both.
The truth is a good deal more nuanced than the ideologues of any stripe will paint it in their sound bites. It would be really refreshing if a few more of us could just remember that simple fact.
Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or email@example.com