Thursday, May 10, 2007

President Bush's Peace of Mind

This week's cover story at U.S. News and World Report has another one of those common articles on the decline of the Bush administration, "A Sinking Presidency." The article notes that Bush has recently began comparing his administration to Abraham Lincoln's. Lincoln stayed the course during the Civil War amid debilitating strategic setbacks and horrendous casualties. (Lincoln also apparently admitted in private that he worried about his reelection in 1864.)

It's no surprise, of course, that some on the left aren't liking Bush's presidential comparisons: Howard Dean, citing another Bush presidential comparison (to Harry Truman), called Bush "delusional"; and the historian Robert Dallek called this president "stubborn and unyielding," adding that "everything he touches turns to dust."

It turns out that Bush is taking it all in stride:

This is all nonsense, according to senior White House officials. They say that Bush isn't delusional at all and that history will vindicate him, just as it vindicated Lincoln and Truman. "He believes the correctness of his policies-including the war in Iraq-may not be recognized for 10, 15 years," says a Bush adviser. Adds another confidant: "If something reaches his level, it tends to be bad news, but he keeps it all in perspective, and there's no equivocation."

These assessments reflect a fundamental fact about George W. Bush's presidency as it approaches what many consider a twilight stage. Despite a cascading series of setbacks that convey the impression of a White House in crisis, Bush continues to exude an aura of calm and self-confidence. Like him or not-and he is one of the most polarizing leaders in American history-he rarely if ever backs down or exhibits self-doubt. This intransigence infuriates his critics and delights his admirers, and it will remain perhaps the most vivid characteristic of his leadership. Friends say one of Bush's favorite self-descriptions is "the decider." It's an inelegant but apt definition of his whole approach to governing. Whether it's an approach that still works is another question entirely.

Bush aides say their boss can be pragmatic, but he won't compromise his core convictions, as shown by his veto last week of a $124 billion bill to fund the Iraq war and at the same time set a timetable for pulling out U.S. troops. "Setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments," the president declared minutes after his veto.
The article also goes on to note that the president is in great spirits (he has peace of mind), continues to exercise regularly, and sleeps well at night. The article naturally cites the president's declining poll numbers -- only Presidents Nixon and Truman have scored lower in presidential approval ratings.

I've blogged on the topic of Bush's lame duck second term before (
see here). While Bush's poll numbers have dropped down pretty far, declining influence in the later years in office is a common phenomenon in the presidency as an institution. Especially in recent times, since President Johnson's administration, most presidencies have ended with the incumbent's approval below fifty percent. The post-1960s exceptions are Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (who left office more popular than when he entered).

I've noted before, as does the quote above, that
I expect President Bush's historical legacy to improve over time, not unlike what happened with President Truman. Clearly, the president and his administration have made mistakes. But I will always admire this president's values, and especially his resolve in the face of adversity.

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