Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More Mush from the Wimp

I almost never agree with David Frum. But he is on target with this observation:

Again and again during the Bush presidency - and yesterday most recently - the president will agree to give what is advertised in advance as a major speech. An important venue will be chosen. A crowd of thousands will be gathered. The networks will all be invited. And after these elaborate preparations, the president says ... nothing that he has not said a hundred times before.

If a president continues to do that, he is himself teaching the public and the media to ignore him - especially when the words seem (as his speech yesterday to the VFW seemed) utterly to ignore the past three months of real-world events.

It's true - Bush hasn't given a truly "major speech" in months - maybe years. It's just more mush from the wimp, again and again. As Frum goes on to say, repetition has its uses. But message discipline is useless if your message has been out there forever and has diverged ever farther from what people see and are thinking about.

Kevin Drum notes that Frum's suggestions on how to address this are weak - based as they are on the assumption that this is more a rhetorical/communications problem than a disconnect from reality. Drum suggests several more substantive things Bush could do - encourage people to enlist, let gays serve openly in the military, come up with a real energy plan. Of course, none of these things will happen because each disturbs some segment of Bush's carefully-assembled, Rove-approved 51 percent majority (which ceased to exist not long after election day, but never mind that now):

If Bush isn't willing to take even a single one of these modest steps and run the risk of annoying even a single one of the interest groups that support him, why should any of the rest of us take his "central front in the war on terror" seriously? Obviously he doesn't.

This is the central failing of the Bush presidency. True leadership sometimes means rising above politics. That confers credibility in tough scrapes like the Iraq war - a sense that the leader in question can see the world in three dimensions. But Bush is so vested in not doing anything that suggests political weakness or doing something his political enemies might want, he's trapped.