Over my vacation, I've been reading A Bright Shining Lie
by Neil Sheehan, between the bouts of flu and possibly bronchitis that have had me rattled the last few weeks.
Reading this book, I think I've found my biggest problem with the Right. In my opinion, they lack a healthy sense of skepticism (and criticism) for the President and his administration. In the weeks leading up to the election, L-Hack used to basically tell me if John Kerry got elected, he couldn't wait to rub his policy mistakes in my face.
My response: "Why do you think I'd be any less critical of John Kerry than I would President Bush?" There are people that believe the President is like an employee that you can't constantly criticize and undermind - you just let him do his job with the belief that it will all come out correct in the end.
I disagree - the Presidency is like any senior management job - you have to make tough decisions, you can't make everyone happy all the time, and if you're not being criticized and questioned, you're not doing your job because you're not making the tough decisions.
Beyond that, there is no such thing as a black & white world - "you with us or you're with the terrorists" - there are lots of countries that could care less about the United States or al-Qaeda. Some are absolutely destitute, like African nations with people dying from AIDS at alarming rates, or nations like Bangladesh, that just hope they can feed everyone. Some nations, like China and India could care less, as long as they're making money and advancing their economy, they're take whatever side promotes their interests, but most likely stay neutral in the face of conflict.
The President paints the world in black & white, good & evil, and that's just not the way the world works. Because of this worldview, every decision he makes is questionable. That's the problem I have with Conservatives - where is the questioning? Where is the doubt?
It reminds me of the pre-Johnson days in Vietnam, where the official government line was one of ARVN success in South Vietnam, and the success of the Diem regime. At one point, even the media was on-board with this view. Slowly, the media came to understand the truth of the situation and reported on it. The media didn't lose Vietnam for the U.S. - we would have lost it anyways, but the negative reporting probably saved lives by speeding up our withdrawal due to the loss of popular support.
Today, I'm skeptical of the media too. I'm a defender of the New York Times
, but I realize they've adopted the role of "official government critic". Almost everything they report will be negative, but it doesn't make it untrue. Is there bias? - absolutely - but wouldn't the same bias exist if they only reported government press releases and news released from the authorities in power?
Are things as bad in Iraq as the media reports? Probably not, but you can bet they're not as good as the White House reports either. Is Social Security in a catacylsmic crisis? Probably not, but it's not secure either. Is privatization going to "save" Social Security? No, but it may be part of a solution.
The point is, everything the government does, everything the President says, is only partially correct. The world is too complex, and the issues that face governance at that level don't lend themselves to easy answers - solutions that are formulated over 4 or 8 years. Those proposed solutions need questioning and debate before action, questioning stemming from healthy criticism.
That's the greatest danger about single-party control over all the branches of government - without deadlock, where is the debate? Republicans fret about judicial nominations being held up - that's nonsense - the people most worthy of appointment will emerge from the deadlock. Same thing with policy - "we need action on this bill" - we NEVER need action on a bill (except maybe the budget) - the best policy will emerge from deadlock.
The final point - the President isn't doing a good job, but he's not doing a bad one either. Only time and history will tell the quality of his performance. In retrospect, we gain more admiration for Richard Nixon, reviled when he left office, revered today for environmental protection and opening relations with China. John Kennedy, deified upon assassination, criticized 40 years later as the architect of Vietnam.
L-Hack will probably argue this point, but my problem with the President stems from the belief that 10-20 years from now, we will pay a price for the policies implemented now, if they are not corrected. It is quite possible that the next President, Republican or Democrat, will correct the mistakes of the Bush administration (especially in the areas of spending and trade), and in the end, this administration will be viewed favorably, even by a liberal like myself.