Dr. Phil is ubiquitous on TV these days promoting a new book that celebrates families. I caught him on the Today Show on Monday. It turns out he is not only doing his usual family counseling schtick, but giving voters advice on how to select a president.
Having just interviewed both George and Laura and John and Teresa for a special on TV, he seemed to have a reason for talking about politics. He should stick to broken families.
He said what Americans want to know about their candidates is how they run their families. Are they good parents? How do they discipline their kids. Who plays the heavy, mom or dad? What BS. The candidates aren't auditioning for Father Knows Best. It doesn't matter if dad is a lousy father or not. Few presidents have been model fathers. The greatest president of the twentieth century--FDR--was a terrible father. His sons went off to fight in WW II but they came home and succumbed to alcoholism, ran thru marriage after marriage, and amounted to little in life, bickering with each other and with their parents. In the 1960s they became involved in an unseemly struggle with Eleanor over the family estate at Hyde Park.
Reagan, also regarded as a great president by some, shared FDR's indifference to his children.
I would have thought we were beyond this kind of jejune analysis. But then just today a student came up to me and asked me if I really believed what I had said that it doesn't matter if a president is a good father (or mother). I said I did. She looked distraught and managed to smile weakly. I could see she resisted believing what I was saying. She is entitled to her opinion. Dr. Phil is entiled to his. But they are wrong nonetheless about this particular issue.
What interests me is that the Bush administration has decided to turn CBS into a punching bag. But why not? There's no downside. The media are rated next to IRS agents in popularity with the American people. Dan Rather is hated by the rightwing. (He not only had the temerity to taunt Nixon but also Bush pere.) And Rather has the third rated TV news show among the Big Three.
In the last half century or so only one president has benefited from good relations with the media: Kennedy, who turned supposedly independent journalists like Charles Bartlet into Democratic Party hacks. (Bartlett famously said he would do anything to help Jack succeed.)
Even Kennedy would rage at the press when it didn't do his bidding. And if he felt that way, imagine what Nixon and Reagan and Bush I felt.
Even though I consider myself a member of the press, I am also wary of its power. Since the party bosses left the scene, it's the media bosses who decide who is up and who is down, who they should cover and not cover, and who has made a gaffe. In all these ways they control the process to an extraordinary degree. They deserve scrutiny. And Rather deserves to be punished for going on the air with a story that had not been properly vetted. Of course, mistakes happen, as they say. Rather has to admit his mistakes. It might even set a nice example for President Bush.
As for Bush, well, Kerry's right about him. He is an unwise leader who plunged us into a disaster in Iraq. He is macho. He is a unilateralist. He has alienated the rest of the world.
Both should listen hard to what the other side is saying. They might learn something. One of these gentlemen is going to be our next president. Better that they know their own weaknesses than not. The election is giving them that golden opportunity.
In the old days voters were saved from themselves by political parties, which instructed them how to vote and why, giving at least a patina of seriousness to the decisions they made at the polls. Today of course the voters reject the old idea of parties, instead preferring to think of themselves as above party. Proudly, they proclaim, WE'RE INDEPENDENTS!
The conceit that they are somehow superior to voters of old because they don't take instruction from party bosses is laughable.
The studies show voters today know less about issues than their grandparents did.
So who was the better voter?
The voters today show no sign of taking seriously their own claims to independent thinking. If they did they might actually do some THINKING. Instead, they neglect the sources of information which provide grist for thoughtful analysis--serious newspapers, serious magazines, and the like--and instead rely on talk radio and talk TV and a smattering of 30 second spots.
This is democracy?
And it ought to leave us ashamed.
He made another mistake in claiming that he grew up under socialism. Not true. "Between 1945 and 1970, all the nation's chancellors were conservatives -- not Socialists."
So far, so good. But other stories claim he also made an error in referring to the 1968 election debate between Nixon and Humphrey.
See, for instance, this article by Michel Chossudovsky (http://globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO409A.html):
"In the 1968 presidential campaign, Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie ran against Richard Nixon and Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew. Richard Nixon did not want to repeat his 1960 experience with JFK. He refused to debate his Democratic opponent Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey challenged Nixon to a debate, there was no debate between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in 1968. Arnold Scharzenegger could not have seen it on TV, because it never took place. In fact, there were no presidential debates between 1960 and 1976."
Tucker Carlson on CNN even apologized for Arnold when Larry King noted that Nixon-Humphrey never debated: "Well, I don't think Schwarzenegger even spoke English at the time. So he could be, you know, forgiven for making that mistake it seems to me."
As the editor of HNN I was ready to include Arnold's error in GOTCHA! But then I took a closer look at Arnold's speech. He never said they debated. He said this:
"I finally arrived here in 1968.I had empty pockets, but I was full of dreams. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend who spoke German and English, translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism which is what I had just left. But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes, and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air."
Any fair reading of this paragraph has to be that Arnold got his history right. Humphrey and Nixon were on TV in 1968 and often popped up in the same news show. So could he have seen them on TV talking about their philosophy? Sure.
One Mencken quote quickly came to mind:
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it."
More and more Mencken seems relevant these days. Though I wouldn't want to associate myself with all of his views, and would stop well short of his searing indictment of democracy, and of American democracy in particular, his observations about the flaws of"the American people" resonate with me now as they never have in the past.
I don't think this is just because"the people" have seen fit to give Bush an eleven point lead over Kerry. If they favored Kerry for the same mindless reasons they favor Bush I'd be equally appalled.
Who can watch American politics and not feel ashamed these days? Ashamed of the candidates. Ashamed of the media. Ashamed of the people?
The candidates treat us with contempt, Bush oversimplifying the world, of course, and Kerry thinking we won't notice that in the space of six months he has embraced both the anti-war and pro-war positions.
The media seize every opportunity to sensationalize events, distracting us from the war in Iraq with stories about Kobe's sex life.
The voters meanwhile seem to earn the contempt with which the politicians hold them. Half won't vote. The half that do will probably base their vote on something as quirky as John Kerry's mien or Bush's macho stride.
I remain convinced that Americans are basically decent. Confronted with an ugly campaign tactic they'll be repulsed. But it's so easy these days to confuse them so they aren't sure what's ugly and what's not that it doesn't much matter that their hearts are in the right place. (Yes, I am thinking about the Swift Boat ads.)
So I return to Mencken, looking for guidance.
(And there's always Will Rogers:"If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone 'America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.'" I can think of things that are wrong with this statement. But it's like picking up on a ride on the highway. It may not be the best way to travel, but at least it's going in the right direction. )
As a Democrat, of course, it was an ordeal. Like going to the dentist. I could feel the drill burrowing deep. I'm sure I would have felt better if I had just ignored the thing (like my mother and many friends did).
As a citizen it was an even worse ordeal. Like open heart surgery. If democracy were a patient, this was the week the patient took to his bed complaining of ulcers, headaches, and heart strain.
While the Republicans celebrated their commander in chief the soldiers he commanded to Iraq were dying in a murky cause in a country he doesn't understand for an unlimited length of time. And yet he had the gall to pretend all is well. And he still insisted, against the facts, that his invasion would result in a democratic Iraq. I had thought it was a sign of realism a few months ago when the administration dropped the claim that Iraq would become a democracy but here was the president reviving his wholly improbable rhetoric of a year ago.
Ronald Reagan was condemned for getting some anecdotes wrong, and mangling facts. President Bush has managed to misconstrue an entire country's prospects.
In an interview with the Today Show's Matt Lauer, the president almost seemed ready to embrace a realistic understanding of the"war on terrorism," explaining that it can't be won. By the next day, after the Democrats had seized on his admission, he had backed down, claiming it can be won. Can you spell f-l-i-p f-l-o-p-p-e-r?
Candidate John Kerry immediately went on TV to say that the war on terrorism can be won. Another low moment in American democracy. Shouldn't he have said that he was happy to learn that the president had finally abandoned the apocalyptic rhetoric of a good versus evil, war on terrorism? Instead, preferring to score some meaningless political points, Kerry passed up the opportunity to inject a note of realism into the national debate and tried to out-Bush Bush. Note to Kerry: You can't out Bush Bush. If this is a contest between candidates who take a simple view of the world Bush will win that fight. He's been doing simple for years and knows how to pull it off.
Max Boot observed that Bush's admission to Matt Lauer was a classic example of the Washington gaffe. Inadvertently, Bush had let the truth slip out.
So both parties let us down last week. I don't see much reason to think the remaining 8 weeks of the campaign will go much better.
He makes one observation that the Kerry people ought to be concerned with. Bush may be less than brilliant, but he has so far succeeded (with Karl Rove's help, of course) to force Kerry on the defensive.
How has he done this?
He has baited Kerry on Iraq into saying things that are nuanced. Bush is decisive is the message. Kerry is nuanced. The American people naturally are drawn to the person who sounds decisive.
Bush is following a script from the 2000 campaign. In the presidential debates he was told by advisors* to bait Gore by playing to one of Gore's chief emotional needs ... the need to feel superior. Bush deliberately made statements that he knew Gore would find stupid or silly. Foolishly, Gore took the bait and came off arrogantly. The voter may have thought that Bush wasn't a rocket scientist, but they sure as hell preferred him to the arrogant-sounding Gore.
Fast forward 4 years. Bush is again baiting his opponent. Kerry can't stand a simple explanation if a more complicated one can be found. Like Gore he is taking the Bush bait.
If Kerry doesn't change his ways at the debates he will find that the C student from Yale has defeated the A student from Yale just as he earlier defeated the A student from Harvard.
*How do I know this? I have a source.
I am just getting into his memoir. In the first 100 pages or so two things stand out.
1. The time his father shot off a gun in the direction of Bill and his mother.
2. How well-off Bill Clinton was as a youth. He didn't exactly have to beg. His step-father, Roger Clinton, he tells us on page 17, owned the local Buick dealership in Hope. Roger's brother Raymond owned a Buick dealership in Hot Springs. Roger's two best friends also were owners. One owned the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. The other owned a string of drugstores. Bill's best friend was Mack McLarty, son of the owner of the local Ford dealership.
His family moved around. First he lived in a small house. Then they moved to a 400 acre farm. Then they moved into a two-story five bedroom house.
In 1956 his family got a television set--this at a time when most Americans didn't have one. In the summers he attended band camp to hone his music skills. "I went there every summer for seven years." (page 40.)
Throughout his childhood Bill Clinton was tended to by nannies. First there was Cora Walters. She took care of him while his folks were away at work for eleven years. After she left the Clintons, "her daughter Mary Hightower came to work for Mother and stayed thirty more years until Mother died." (p. 23.)
If you are ready to fall out of your chair you really shouldn't be. Bill Clinton, like most presidents, according to a fine study published 20 years ago by Edward Pessen, The Log Cabin Myth, grew up in better economic circumstances than his contemporaries. That you think otherwise is a tribute to the power of the log cabin mythology spun by his media manipulators.
A better approach would have been to observe that the president in stating his opposition to the 527 ads was saying he opposed ads by all groups not controlled by the campaign or the party.
Media Person: Correct?
Bush Spokesman: Yes, that's correct.
Media Person: Does he object to the message in the Swift Boat ad?
Bush Spokesman: He objects to all the ads.
Media Person: I repeat. Does he object to the message in the Swift Boat ad?
What needed to be done was for the media, in other words, to acknowledge that there are legitimately 2 questions here: 1. the wisdom of allowing 527 groups to run ads, and 2. the particular message of the anti-Kerry ad.
Presumably, the Bush people would refuse to answer the second question. In that case, the public will have a clear appreciation of this fact. But by not distinguishing between the two questions the media have allowed the Bush people to muddy the waters with an explanation that is decidedly off-point.
The media might also have noted in the course of these interviews that Republicans argued in Congress that 527 groups should have every right to advertise their views. It was Democrats who insisted on restrictions on the 527s. (The 527s cannot mention specific candidates in the month leading up to the election.) Republicans say they favor freedom and disclosure, as Virginia Sen. George Allen said on Meet the Press. If that is so, how can the president under the circumstances demand that all 527s stop advertising?
At dinner with friends last night in Seattle we got into an argument about this. My friend argued that Bush is a leader, whatever you think of his policies. In 6 months, he pointed out in defense of his position, President Bush succeeded in staging a war against Iraq that virtually no other leader in the world had pressed for. Didn't that make Bush a leader?
I objected that leadership implies wisdom. What Bush did in Iraq demonstrated that he lacks wisdom. He operated as president from his gut without taking into consideration the many problems his policies would aggravate or lead to. There are many ways to define leadership. Princeton’s Fred Greenstein in a recent book listed half a dozen qualities presidents need: emotional intelligence, the ability to understand complex events, political skills, communication skills, organizational abilities, policy vision. Hans Morgenthau, the University of Chicago political scientist, argued that one mark of a leader was the ability to handle complexity, particularly in the making of foreign policy, an ability, he noted, that the masses lack:
The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers. The popular mind, unaware of the fine distinctions of the statesman's thinking, reasons more often than not in the simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil. The statesman must take the long view, proceeding slowly and by detours, paying with small losses for great advantage; he must be able to temporize, to compromise, to bide his time. The popular mind wants quick results; it will sacrifice tomorrow's real benefit for today's apparent advantage.
Now who does Bush remind you of? The reflective, strategizing leader or the impulsive, unthinking masses?
But my friend had a point. Bush is no Jimmy Carter. Unlike a Jimmy Carter, for instance, Bush knows how to use power. Democrats who think of him as a dolt miss this aspect of his presidency. And they do it at their political peril. Underestimate Bush and you got whacked good.
But is there a name for someone who lacks the qualities of the leader but who nonetheless understands the uses of power? There must be some word that fits this but I don't know it. Any experts in Latinisms are welcome to enlighten me.
If this is true, shouldn't Brinkley allow the Kerry campaign to release them? At this point their release could hardly damage Brinkley's attempts to sell his book. The book has been out for months. And keeping the records secret limits public debate on a vital issue as it feeds public suspicions tha either Brinkley or Kerry has something to hide.
Historians have bemoaned Allen Weinstein's decision to limit access to the Russian archives he and a colleague uncovered in the 1990s. Shouldn't they also be pressing for the release of these papers?
Kerry finally has begun to go on the offense, criticizing President Bush for failing to denounce the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who have promulgated the stories about Kerry's medals. Kathleen Hall Jamieson says flatly in the NYT today that it was a mistake for the campaign to wait so long. I agree. And it's not as if the Kerry campaign was caught by surprise. Conservatives have been railing on his military medals for months, as can be seen in this exchange which took place on HNN in April.
Two quick observations and one long one. One, Vietnam has once again roiled presidential politics. (Won't this ever end?) This is the 4th election in which Vietnam has played a central role. In 1964 the Tonkin Gulf resolution gave LBJ a decisive advantage over Goldwater (would anyone want Goldwater at the helm if we were about to get into a shooting war with Vietnam?) In 1968 Nixon beat Humphry because of Vietnam. In 1992 Bush I almost beat the"draft-dodging" Clinton because of Vietnam (ironic because Bush I was supposed to have put the ghost of Vietnam to rest with our victory in the Gulf War). And now we have this. What? A fourth election turning into a referendum on Vietnam, 30 years after American participation in the war came to an end? Ah, but we lost. That's hard for the country to accept. Not even victory in the Cold War has succeeded in wiping away the stain.
Two, Bush is trying by his manipulation of this issue to turn the election into a referendum on Kerry's character rather than his own handling of the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Kerry loses if Bush succeeds in this attempt.
Three, a little historical context. Bush is not reinventing the wheel of politics. Attacking the war record of presidential candidates is an old and vibrant tradition in American politics. In some cases elections have turned on these attacks.
In 1960 Kennedy and Humphry were battling in the West Virginia primary for the Democratic nomination. JFK won in the end, perhaps, because he had had the wisdom to bring in Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. to reassure Protestant voters that Catholic Kennedy could be trusted with power. One of FDR Jr.'s most effective attacks was to smear Humphry as a draft dodger."There's another candidate in your primary," said Roosevelt,"but I don't know where he was in World War II." Bobby Kennedy apparently orchestrated the attacks. Asked to denounce them, Kennedy refused. (Humphry in fact had tried to get into the service, but failed because he could not pass the physical).
In the general election Kennedy ran as a war hero. This was ironic. Though he deserved praise for his courage in the aftermath of the attack on PT 109, it had apparently sunk because he had been inattentive as a commander, as Garry Wills long ago pointed out. JFK himself worried that the events could justify either a medal or a court martial. In the end he got the medal--after his father used his influence.
Kennedy as president tried to get his friend Ben Bradlee to do a story on Nelson Rockefeller's military record--or lack of one."Where was old Nels when you and I were dodging bullets in the Solomon Islands?" he asked one day.
I have drawn these examples of Kennedy's perfidy from It Didn't Start with Watergate, a book written by a rightwing journalist whose goal was to show that long before Nixon politicians played dirty.
Playing dirty--an American tradition. Unfortunately.
Two well-regarded pundits have now opined on the prospects of President Bush. Allan Lichtman, using a model that takes into account 13 different factors, has concluded that President Bush has a slight edge in November. Yale professor Ray Fair, using a less nuanced model that focuses mostly on economics and takes into account just six factors, predicts that President Bush will win the election with 57.4 percent of the popular vote. Lichtman has accurately predicted the winner of the popular vote in every election since 1984. Ray Fair's model accurately accounts for every election victory since 1960 with the exception of 1992.
Both Lichtman and Fair concede that the 2004 election might not go as they anticipate.
The economy could tumble into a double-dip recession, one of several potential scandals could afflict the president, and events in Iraq and Afghanistan could negate his successes abroad.
Given the current prediction of the equation that Bush will get over 57 percent of the two-party vote, does this mean that a Bush victory is a sure thing? The answer is no. First, the prediction is based on a particular set of economic forecasts (the current forecasts from my economic model), and if the economy does not do as well as this set says, the vote prediction for Bush will go down. Second, even if the equation is correctly specified, it makes on average an error of about 2.4 percentage points each election (called the"standard error"). Third, the equation may be misspecified. This is where the pitfalls come in.
[One] possible pitfall is that the equation is misspecified because it does not have a job growth variable in it, only an output growth variable. Historically output growth and job growth are so highly correlated that very similar estimates are obtained using either. They are too highly correlated for one to be able to estimate separate effects. If in 2004 output growth is fairly good, but job growth is not, this would lead the equation to be off if job growth is in fact more important in voters' minds than output growth.
Both Lichtman and Fair are right to be cautious. In a fluid political environment like today the old models may be in error. Already in the last few years, as James Taranto recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head repeatedly. In 2000 President Bush won the presidency without taking California; no Republican had done that since James Garfield. Bush was also the first Republican to win the White House without taking Delaware since the election of 1888. And in 2002 Republicans gained seats in both the House and the Senate in the off-year elections; that's only happened once before in the last century: in 1934.
The most obvious factor in the election is Bush's incumbency; both Fair and Lichtman say Bush's status as an incumbent is a factor in their calculations giving him an edge in November. In the twentieth century ten incumbents won election,* five lost.** Incumbency is usually therefore considered an advantage. But there's a caveat and it applies in Bush's case. Incumbents presiding over controversial wars usually lose. If they are not themselves up for re-election, the nominee of their party loses. After the First World War ended on a sour note with a peace treaty at Versailles that few liked, the Democrats lost the election, Woodrow Wilson being succeeded by Warren Harding in a landslide. The next unpopular war was Korea. Democrat Harry Truman, fearing he would lose (he was down to 23 percent in the polls) chose not to run for re-election. He was succeeded by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican who won in a landslide. In 1968 Democrat Lyndon Johnson chose not to run because of Vietnam. He was succeeded by Republican Richard Nixon.
Given the record of war presidents in the twentieth century, incumbency would appear to be less of an advantage to President Bush than it might be otherwise. If one takes into account the war presidents who chose not to run for re-election because they feared defeat--presidents who in fact were succeeded by members of the other party--the advantage shifts decidedly against war presidents. Counting these incumbents or their party's replacements as losers brings the total number who faced defeat in the past century to seven. In other words, incumbency is a disadvantage when the public has turned against a war.
Lawrence F. Kaplan argued in the New Republic last year that it is not war per se that turns Americans against presidents. Nor is it battle casualties. Americans will tolerate casualties. What they won't tolerate is defeat:
Survey data dating back half a century consistently shows that what determines the public's willingness to tolerate casualties has little do with casualties themselves. Specifically, polls demonstrate that Americans will sustain battle deaths if they think the United States will emerge from a conflict triumphant, if they believe the stakes justify casualties, and if the president makes a case for suffering them.
Americans have not concluded that the Iraq war has been lost. But the polls would appear to suggest that Americans increasingly are drawing the conclusion that the war is not being won. A turning point seems to have been reached in April when Falluja was under assault. Polls since April show that Americans consistently disapprove of Bush's handling of the Iraq war. A CBS/NYT poll at the end of June indicated that 60 percent disapprove of his management of the war. Most still believe it was right to go to war. This number may change by November if the situation does not improve.
The public in contrast approves of Mr. Bush's other war: the war on terrorism. The question is which war they'll judge him on: Iraq or the genral war on terrorism. Of course, the Bush administration considers these two wars different faces of the same coin. The public in 2003 clearly shared this view. Whether they still do is uncertain.
Incumbents usually possess an advantage because of their ability to control events. Time and again they have used this power to affect the outcome of elections. Thus, in 1972 President Nixon sent Henry Kissinger out to tell a press conference that peace in Vietnam was near. But unpopular wars are usually outside the control of presidents, as both Truman and Johnson discovered. Only Nixon among the presidents who presided over unpopular wars in the last century was able to manipulate public opinion in his favor.
Election 2004 is a referendum primarily on George W. Bush's tenure in the White House. Many factors will shape the way the public votes. Incumbency is just one of those factors. Even though it would seem at first glance to favor Bush, it probably doesn't unless the war in Iraq begins to look like a victory--and soon.
*Incumbents who won election in the twentieth century include: Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton.
**Incumbents who lost: Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush.
Frank, a professor of psychiatry at GWU Medical Center, offers a diagnosis so harsh it makes Eric Alterman's book on Bush look tame. I lost count of the psychoses and other ailments Bush is said to be afflicted with, but they include: thought disorder, megalomania, possible dyslexia, ADHD, and even possibly Tourette's syndrome (Bush is said to twitch).
Psychological diagnoses have a bad reputation. Freud, in a book co-authored with the diplomat William C. Bullitt, put Woodrow Wilson on the couch and concluded that because he had a problem with authority derived from mixed emotions toward his father he was fated to sabotage the passage of the Treaty of Versailles in the Senate:
The great streams of libido which sprang from his infantile desires with regard to his father were, indeed, once again in conflict. Because of his reaction-formation against his passivity to his father it was impossible for him, by compromising with [Sen. Henry Cabot] Lodge, to obtain the ratification of the treaty which his passivity to his father demanded. His psychic needs left but one course of action open to him: he had to obtain ratification by crushing Lodge.
Few historians have paid much attention to Freud's analysis. It has seemed to them that the diagnosis was reductive. Might there not have been other reasons for Wilson's approach? He was exhausted. He had been accustomed to getting his way with Congress owing to overwhelming majorities and found it difficult to adjust to the new political realities when his party lost seats at the midterm elections in 1918. He had let the crowds go to his head in Europe.
Frank's account of Bush suffers from similar reductive analysis. He says that Bush was fated to go to war with Iraq to avenge Saddam's attempt on his father's life and simulatneously to best his father, who had failed to remove Saddam. The problem with the analysis is that it may be right or it may be wrong; there's no way to tell.
But several of Frank's main diagnoses seem sound. Bush, despite appearances, is a complicated fellow. He had a difficult relationship with both his mother and father. Both were emotionally absent during his childhood (his father was both emotionally and physically absent; brother Jeb said that they were raised by his mother in a home that was essentially a matriarchy). Barbara Bush, herself the victim of a distant relationship with her own mother, found it difficult to acknowledge pain. She did not attend her own mother's funeral. The day after her six year old child Robin died she and her husband went golfing. After 41 lost the presidency Barbara, the very next day, said, well, that's that, let's move on. Frank suggests that W. suffered intense feelings of remorse and guilt from his sister's death, whom he had not even been told was ill. Unable to openly reveal his emotions he tried, but failed, to ignore them.
His relationship with his father posed different challenges. Following in his father's footsteps he went to Andover and Yale and then plunged headlong into the Texas oil business. But at each stage he demonstrated lesser gifts than his father. His father at Andover had been a star of the baseball team; W became the commissioner of stickball. His father at Yale had studied hard; W became a fraternity cut-up. His father made millions in the oil business; W lost millions of other peoples' money. W's first and only real success prior to his election as governor was his management of the Texas Rangers, which finally gave him, Frank notes in an insightful passage, the right to claim a baseball success larger than his father's.
Affected deeply by his sister's death, resentful toward his unfeeling mother and both in awe of his father and oppressed by his example, Bush took to alcohol to medicate himself.
This has the ring of truth to it. And Frank's diagnosis is even more layered than I am suggesting. Where he goes wrong is in linking specific Bush policies to his childhood experiences and emotional needs. Frank, a medical doctor, seems woefully naive about politics. He can think of no political reason for Bush's embrace of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Instead, he confidently asserts, Bush evidently fears homosexuals because of a latent desire for his father's penis.
I have asked Frank to write an op ed summarizing his analysis of President Bush. I hope he will say yes. We should be encouraged to consider the formative emotional experiences of a president's childhood even if we cannot link those experiences directly to policies they advance in office.
Unfortunately, psychiatrists have so often offered reductive analyses of presidents that their approach has been largely discredited. This is a mistake. One thinks of Edmund Morris's biography of Ronald Reagan. The fundamental fact of Reagan's childhood was his father's alcoholism. Morris barely mentions it and doesn't even bother telling us that Reagan's withdrawal into a dreamy world of myth is characteristic of the children of alcoholics. (In contrast Bill Clinton in his memoir acknowledges the effect of alcohol on his family and suggests how it led him to create a parallel universe. The difference between Reagan and Clinton would seem to be, in part, that one took refuge in a world of myths while the other created two worlds.)
My advice: Go ahead and read Justin Frank; just don't take him too literally.
After reading the anti-Kerry statement I was tempted to think there may be more here than I at first suspected. Perhaps Kerry really did angle for a Purple Heart he didn't deserve. But how is one to know whom to believe? Douglas Brinkley's account of heroism or the critics'?
When historians in 20 or 30 years look into this perhaps we'll get the truth--or some semblance of the truth. But don't bet on it. Historians are still arguing about JFK's war record, thanks mainly to Garry Wills, who argued in a book about Kennedy myths that Kennedy, though obviously brave, had apparently let his little PT 109 boat get run over by a lumbering ship through malfeasance.
Maureen Dowd on Meet the Press this past Sunday said it is distasteful to be arguing about Kerry's war record. She's right. A mature democracy shouldn't. What a President Kerry would do in office is more important than what he did 30 years ago. The Republicans argue that it was Kerry who made this page out of history relevant by running on his war record. And they're right about that. But questioning his integrity seems to me beyond the pale.
Folks: this is no way to run a democracy.
But alas it is the way we have run ours ever since the masses won the right to vote. Go back to the election of 1840, the first to feature the kind of ugly politics common to systems of mass suffrage. William Henry Harrison had no business running for president. He was too old and too feeble. But he had that war record from 30 years ago. So the Whigs ran him. The Democrats had run a war hero (Andy Jackson) and won and now the Whigs would run theirs--and win.
This is in other words all about image. It's about manipulating the public by selling a candidate as a war hero and manipulating the public by trashing his record as a hero. What it all has to do with the war on terrorism, healthcare, the creation of jobs, looming budget deficits, or any of our other issues facing the country is impossible to determine. But you can bet it is what we'll be talking about until election day because Kerry's war record makes him an attractive candidate. And Bush isn't a war hero .... making him an _______. You fill in the blank.
So let the yakking begin.
As the NYT editorialized today:
With talks on the new treaty set to begin later this year, the administration suddenly announced last week that it would insist that no provisions for inspections or verification be included.Officials claim that they want to prevent other nations from using inspections to nose around American nuclear installations. We want to be able to nose around theirs, of course (vide Iraq, North Korea, etc.), but not the other way around.
This is a betrayal of the spirit of Dwight Eisenhower's Open Skies initiative. In 1954 at a meeting with the Soviets in Geneva Ike stunned the world with a proposal to require the USSR and the US to allow flights overhead so each nation could keep an eye on the other's military build-ups. Historians still debate Ike's motives. Some think it was a PR ploy to show the world amidst the Cold War that the US was sincere about easing tensions; when the USSR turned down the proposal the US gained in the Cold War propaganda war. Other historians insist that Ike was sincere, even though they acknowledge that he had already approved the plan for U2 spy flights over the USSR. His main concern, they argue, was to prevent a nuclear Pearl Harbor. The only way to do that would be to know in advance that the other side was preparing for a nuclear attack. As advisors to the president noted, there were only so many defensive measures that a nation could undertake to protect itself.
Either way, Ike publicly identified the US with an arms control position that celebrated openness as its key characteristic. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan reiterated our commitment to openness by agreeing to inspections of our secret military facilities in Utah and other places. Every so often Soviet inspectors would show up in Salt Lake City to find out if we were abiding by our commitment to destroy certain weapons.
The Bush administration has now rejected this tradition of openness. This is disconcerting. Imagine if the Cold War were still on and the Soviets took the position the US is now taking. We'd be furious and we wouldn't be shy about letting the world know.
We would have been right then. We are wrong now.
Why bring up the Reynolds affair? It came to mind when I was reading that Bill Clinton still faces repeated reminders of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The day after his big speech to the Democratic National Convention the Washington Post published a "where are they now" feature, complete with pictures, about Monica Lewinsky.
What a world we live in. Imagine if Hamilton, who like Clinton was forced to make a public confession, had found himself in the position Clinton does of facing the picture of his erstwhile paramour in the papers. But of course back in the old days the women in these sorts of stories were always invisible. No one ever interviewed Warren Harding's lovers. No one ever scored a big media interview in prime time with FDR's Missy Lehand. Nobody ever built a Barbara Walters television special around Ike's Kay Summersby or JFK's girls, Fiddle and Faddle.
Today these women would be celebrities. And because of their celebrity no philandering politician who has the misfortune to get caught can ever forget what they did.
Is he kidding? Did he miss the 1984 election? Dick Cheney says Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. What Reagan really proved was that facts don't matter and that voters don't want the facts, particularly unpleasant facts. Mondale told them taxes would have to go up. They gave him the boot.
I saw Mondale the other day on TV. A reporter asked him if he considered his promise to raise taxes a mistake. Mondale, appearing a bit incensed--he obviously has heard this question before--stood his ground and insisted he was proud of his promise. It was the truth.
After 1984 there's no excuse for any politician or pundit thinking the American people want the truth.
I give a lecture devoted to this theme and it can't be summarized in a short blog entry. But the gist of my comments is that Americans are beholden to myths about themselves and their place in the world for the simple reason that myths are what define who we are and the values we cherish. Unlike the French or the Germans we are not united by a common ancestry. So we huddle around the fireplace at night and tell each other stories: that all men are created equal, that America is a shining city on a hill, and on and on.
The stories are inspirational. I wouldn't want us to give them up in favor of a hard-nosed cynical approach to life. But a little appreciation of the truth would be helpful. But truth is hardly high on the list of national values, despite what Republicans said during the Lewinsky affair when they were shocked--shocked!--that a president would lie to them.
Presidents tell us what they think we want to hear. When they tell us the harsh truths we recoil.
Bob Herbert -- where have you been all these years?
But what about you? You're no crowd-pleaser, that's for sure. Not even the best speech writers in the world are going to turn you into Bill Clinton or Al Gore. You're no Ronald Reagan.
But that doesn't mean you can't succeed.
So what should you say? One point you need to hammer home. You've got to tell Americans that the enemy they face is Islamist terrorists and that you are angry about what they have done and what they plan to do. If you enrolled in Arianna's angry management class, forget what you learned when you get to the part in your speech about the terrorists. SHOW US YOU DESPISE THEM AND HATE THEM.
We know the Democrats hate George W. Bush. What we haven't seen is that Democrats also hate the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9-11--and who plan more attacks.
I'm deliberately keeping this memo short so you can go rewrite your speech. There's not much time left to get this right.