You are browsing the archive for George W. Bush.

by inoljt

Hurricane Sandy Helped Obama, So Why Didn’t Hurricane Katrina Help George W. Bush?

10:53 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: inoljt,

A number of political analysts have labeled Hurricane Sandy as one of the factors that helped Barack Obama win re-election. Here, for instance, is a typical news analysis about it. Some conservatives have even gone so far as to say that the hurricane gave the election to Obama. It wasn’t the fault of the Romney campaign that he lost; it was the hurricane.

By the by, Obama wasn’t the only president who managed to get a hurricane to hit a major American city during his term. Our previous president George W. Bush also had the good luck of having a hurricane hit a major city in 2005. Strangely, however, Hurricane Katrina did not improve Bush’s popularity. In fact, his approval ratings plunged after the hurricane.


Why did Obama benefit from Hurricane Sandy, while the opposite happened with Bush and Hurricane Katrina?

This is of course a rhetorical question. Natural disasters are politically neutral events. They can hurt or help an incumbent. What matters is the response, not the hurricane.

Obama’s administration responded competently and effectively to Hurricane Sandy. He thus gained political benefit. Bush’s administration responded incompetently and ineffectively to Hurricane Katrina. Bush thus saw his popularity drop.

In fact, that’s a pretty good metaphor for the Obama and Bush administrations overall.

by inoljt

Inside the Nomination Process

11:13 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a lawyer who had worked at the former Bush administration. This individual’s job was guiding and selecting presidential nominees for various posts in government. He was quite young; perhaps in his 30s or 40s. It was quite interesting listening to what he had to say.

Most nominations – around 90%, according to this lawyer – had almost no presidential involvement. This was due to how much stuff the president had on his plate; he generally only personally involved himself in those nominations which required Senate confirmation.

In general, the president gave an outline of what he wanted, such as an individual holding an ideological viewpoint similar to his. Then the staff did all the legwork of choosing, vetting, and sending through the nomination. The president only signed approval at the end. He might sign through multiple nominations, such as a list of eight nominees, at one time.

There is, of course, a background check. Generally the CIA or FBI goes around asking all the people you know for information. They then, with more important nominations, try to go around asking your contacts for more contacts.

Finally, the president prized diversity – something that was quite surprising but encouraging to hear. According to the former lawyer, this was not always very easy to achieve. It’s easy to find diverse candidates in places like New York or Los Angeles, he said. But in places like Minnesota or Missouri it’s a lot harder. The difficulty was multiplied by the fact that the president was looking for nominees of a conservative mind-set. Minorities, of course, are much more likely to vote Democratic and hold liberal views. Finding, for instance, a conservative non-white accomplished lawyer in North Carolina is actually a non-trivial task.

The lawyer told a story about a time they had submitted a list of eight candidates to the president to be signed. The first seven were white males; “we didn’t do it purposedly; it just happened to be that way,” he stated.

The eighth nominee was for Puerto Rico, and had a name similar to Eduardo Perez (I forget the exact name). After looking at the names and signing the president joked, “What, you couldn’t find another white male for Puerto Rico?”

All in all, the conversation was very interesting and informative. A lot of the day-by-day things that go into running the country are unrecorded by the media. It’s good to get some insight into what actually goes on inside things such as the nomination process.


by inoljt

Predicting George W. Bush’s Presidency

6:00 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

More than ten years to this day, George W. Bush was inaugurated as president. Upon this event, The Onion – a famous satirical magazine – published an article titled “Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over.

The article humorously blasted Mr. Bush, predicting an array of disasters that would occur under his tenure. This was in January of 2000, when Mr. Bush had been president for less than a month and long before 9/11. In predicting these disasters, the authors were making educated guesses about a Republican president might do wrong.

Ten years later, it’s eerie just how accurate the authors were. For instance:

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

“You better believe we’re going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration,” said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. “Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?”

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.

That sounds exactly like the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis. The Onion even predicted exactly what type of war Mr. Bush would create – a “Gulf-War level armed conflict.” And he did!

There are other amazingly specific predictions, all of which turned out to be right. Take growing partisan conflict:

‘We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two,’ Bush said.

Or widening inequality:

‘Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there’s much more widening left to do.

Or the deficit:

We must squander our nation’s hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent.

There were several things which The Onion missed; it wasn’t able to predict Mr. Bush’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina, or his incredible unpopularity worldwide. All in all, however, the article’s accuracy is pretty impressive having been written just after Mr. Bush’s inauguration.

I look forward to reading what The Onion will write when the next Republican president is inaugurated.


by inoljt

Reading “Decision Points”

3:47 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

Former president George W. Bush’s book “Decision Points” has recently been published. While not exactly an exciting page-turner, the book does provide some insight into the White House for much of the last decade. There are several interesting things that “Decision Points” says.

Firstly, it is fairly obvious that “Decision Points” has been ghostwritten – that is, that most of the words are that of a ghostwriter rather Mr. Bush himself. Indeed, the autobiography sometimes reads quite like former President Bill Clinton’s “My Life.” Again and again, Mr. Bush is “reduced to tears” or “amazed” by Event X or Person Y. Such things also happen with striking regularity to Mr. Clinton in “My Life” (in contrast, President Barack Obama only cries once – when he first hears Reverend Jeremiah Wright make a sermon – in his non-ghostwritten “Dreams from my Father”).

This sometimes makes for less interesting reading. For instance, Mr. Bush – or his ghostwriter – does his best to praise Vice President Dick Cheney as a great man and a service to his country. Given the rumors of conflict between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney in the later years of his term, one wonders whether Mr. Bush really thinks this in his heart.

Despite its ghostwritten status, however, one still finds some interesting insights. Mr. Bush ordered his team to begin planning the Iraq War mere months after 9/11, for instance – something that will not endear him any to liberal critics. Also fascinating is his account of Hurrican Katrina. Mr. Bush talks at some length about the bureaucratic obstacles that prevented the federal government from taking control. Apparently the White House feared that doing this – the image of a Republican president ordering troops into a majority-black city in a state with a history of racial oppression – would create political scandal. Suffice to say that such considerations were probably the farthest from anybody’s mind at the time.

The book, interestingly enough, focuses strongly on foreign affairs. “Decision Points” spends most of its time talking about Mr. Bush’s wars and the aftermath of 9/11; domestic affairs are almost an afterthought. Only when a domestic crisis – stem cells, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis – intrudes does Mr. Bush turn his gaze away from the War on Terror. In fact, apart from foreign affairs related to the War on Terror the book is quite sparse. Mr. Bush includes a few pages on Russia and a few on China (aside from America, the two most powerful nations in the world) – but one gets the feeling that he does so only because of how bad it would look if he did not do so.

One wonders how an Obama-written “Decision Points” would be like. It would probably have an inverted concentration on foreign and domestic affairs: domestic affairs would be first, with foreign affairs an afterthought. Mr. Obama would talk about the stimulus, health care, financial reform, the Bush tax cuts (indeed, Mr. Obama probably would devote more time to the Bush tax cuts than Mr. Bush himself), and the economic recession. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be given space only out of necessity, in stark contrast to Mr. Bush’s approach.

Finally, Mr. Bush spends quite a remarkable amount of space defending himself. Again and again the former president – or his ghostwriter – talks about how he regrets how Thing A turned out, or about how he spends a lot of time thinking about whether he could have done Thing B differently (the answer is usually “no.”) At points the book reads like a litany of mistakes Mr. Bush made, with Mr. Bush attempting to defend his decisions at the time.

Some will say, of course, that Mr. Bush’s presidency actually was a litany of mistakes. Indeed, the majority of Americans probably endorse this view. In many ways, the reason that Mr. Bush wrote “Decision Points” was to contest this view. While not very convincing in doing so, it does provide some insight into how Mr. Bush made the mistakes that he did.


by inoljt

Republican Merrymaking After 2004

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Six years ago the Republican Party ruled American politics. A Republican president had just been re-elected, cementing two decades of Republican dominance (apart from the freak election of one President Bill Clinton). It held solid majorities in the House and Senate. Conservatives controlled the Supreme Court, and most states were governed by Republicans.

Naturally, Republicans were celebrating this state of affairs. A PBS set of interviews provides a very interesting look into Washington’s conventional wisdom following President George W. Bush’s 2004 triumph. Titled “How Secure Is Republican Dominance?” it constitutes an almost alien contrast to today’s narrative of Democratic dominance.

Some of these differences can be quite amusing. Take, for instance, the words of Republican pundit Grover Norquist:

Do you believe that the re-election of this president is a kind of proof-positive of the Republican hegemony/plurality, whatever you want to call it, for the next couple of election cycles?

The president’s re-election in 2004 was a confirming election for 2002 and 2000. But we’ve now had five, six election cycles with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate and now two presidential elections. When you look at what redistricting does, the Republicans will hold the House until 2012. When you look at the 30 red states and the 20 blue states, the Republicans will hold the Senate indefinitely unless there’s some radical change in the nature of the two parties. The party that carries all those lovely square states out west will dominate the Senate.

So the Republicans have the House until at least 2012, but probably another decade. They have the Senate indefinitely, and the question is — they’ll win and lose presidencies just as the Democrats when they were the dominant party would sometimes mess up and lose the presidency in ’52 and ’68.

In addition to predicting never-ending Republican control of Congress (as well as providing eminently quotable material six years later), Mr. Norquist contributes some thoughts on the coming 2008 presidential election. The Republican candidate, of course, is favored:

I think it would be difficult to see a Democrat winning in 2008 because of the demographic trends, because of some of the successes that you can see the Republicans will have in the next four years to weaken the trial lawyers and strengthen the constituencies. The Democratic Party needs to restructure itself as something other than the trial lawyer, labor union, government worker, aggressively secular party. That isn’t a majority strategy.

Not everybody is as optimistic as Mr. Norquist, however. A number of pundits note Mr. Bush’s close margin. Reporter Dan Balz of the Washington Post warns Republicans of the dangers of overreaching. He argues that:

The danger for the Republicans is the same danger that any winning party has — and we’ve seen it repeatedly over the last two decades — which is to over-interpret any election as a mandate for something, and to presume that because they won a certain victory that they now have the right to essentially do what they want to do…And if you do things that go too far in one direction, you do that at your peril. So if the Republicans overreach, as the Gingrich Republicans did in the Congress in 1995 and 1996, there could be a backlash against the Republicans that would first be felt, I would guess, in some of the off-year elections in 2006, and certainly could be felt in the 2008 presidential election.

These foresightful words are echoed by Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist of the Mr. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign (who later became a hostile critic of the president). He too worries about the future:

So, a tight election that we won closely and that we hold the Senate, we hold the Congress, and we hold the presidency, is a good place to be. But you don’t hold them by huge amounts. And if your policies go awry and you have the wrong candidates, you could easily lose those elections.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dowd takes heart in the current weakness of the opposition Democratic Party. Republicans are the party of ideas; Democrats are the party of “No.” If they don’t stand for anything, Democrats will have a difficult time winning elections:

I think a bigger part of their difficulty is they have no organizing principle right now. And that is, they have no person to organize around. They haven’t had this since Clinton left the presidency. Their entire organizing principle for the last four years has been anti, meaning it’s all been against the president. It hasn’t been for somebody. It hasn’t been: “We love this person. This person is the leader of the Democratic Party. We care about him.” It was all: “We don’t like Bush. Let’s get him out of office.” And they don’t have a set of policies that people, average voters in their minds say, “This is what the Democrats stand for. This is what they stand for in foreign policy. This is what they stand for in the war on terror. This is what they stand for on the changing economy.”

As amusing as these quotes stand six years later, they also serve as a warning to the current Republican Party. Today’s situation, in fact, is quite similar to that six years ago. Republicans have just swept into the House of Representatives on a major wave election. In state legislatures and governorships around the country the Republican Party is newly dominant. Pundits throughout Washington are predicting a dire future for Democrats – just as they did six years ago.

Yet the tides of public opinion can turn around just as quickly as they did after 2004. In 2016 today’s conventional wisdom might look just as stupid as Mr. Norquist’s words did in 2008.

by inoljt

Where Al Gore Did Better than Barack Obama: What Conventional Wisdom Doesn’t Tell You

6:41 pm in Elections, Politics by inoljt

By: Inoljt,

Several days after the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times produced a famous map of voting shifts since 2004. Most politics buffs have seen this map; according to it, Appalachia “voted more Republican, while the rest of the nation shifted more Democratic.”

There is something else occurring here, however, which the map hides – and which almost nobody has perceived. This trend goes strongly, strongly against conventional wisdom.

To unearth this trend, let’s move back one election – to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 tie with former President George W. Bush. Before going below the fold, I invite you to guess – which states did Mr. Gore do better than President Barack Obama?

Here are the states he performed best relative to President Barack Obama. In all these, Mr. Gore did at least five percent better than Mr. Obama.


By and large, these states are what one would expect. All are located in the midst of Appalachia or the Deep South, regions rapidly trending Republican. All were fairly unenthused by Obama’s themes sounding change and hope.

Here are the remaining states in which Gore improved upon Obama:


This result is something quite different. Arizona – Senator John McCain’s home state – is not surprising, nor is Appalachian Kentucky.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, on the other hand – these constitute core Democratic strongholds. The vast majority of pundits would characterize them as becoming more Democratic, if anything at all. Indeed, there has been much ballyhoo about the Northeast’s Democratic shift – how Republicanism is dead in the region, how every single New England congressman is a Democrat, how Obama lost only a single county in New England.

That Al Gore performed more strongly than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey runs strongly against this hypothesis. Remember, too, that Obama won the popular vote by 7.3% while Gore did so by only 0.5%. If the two had ran evenly, this trend would have been far more pronounced. The state in which Obama improved least upon Gore, for instance, was not Alaska or Mississippi – but New York, where Gore did only 1.88% worse than Obama. The map below indicates this:


Much of the movement derives from the Republican candidates in 2000 and 2008. George Bush was a terrible fit for northeastern voters, with his lack of intellectual depth and cowboy persona. John McCain, on the other hand, was a man many northeasterners admired – he had a strong brand of independence and moderation, which the campaign tarnished but did not destroy. McCain was a person New England Republicans could feel comfortable voting for – and they did. (Fortunately for Democrats, there are not too many Republicans left in the Northeast.)

All in all, the Northeast’s relative movement right constitutes a very surprising trend. Few people would anticipate that Al Gore did better than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. It defies conventional wisdom and the common red-blue state dynamic, which holds that the northeast is permanently Democratic. Finally, given increasing political polarization, this relative trend the other way probably is a good thing for the country.

by inoljt

The Forgotten Reason Behind Bush’s Unpopularity

5:58 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: Inoljt,

Memory fades quickly in politics; less than a year ago George W. Bush was president, and already the man is halfway forgotten (something due in no small part to Bush’s self-enforced media silence).

Many, of course, remember that former President George W. Bush became distinctly unpopular during his second term. Liberals will explain this as a product of Mr. Bush’s stance on Iraq, civil liberties, the environment everything. Conservatives will point to his “betrayal of the cause” – the deficits and his moderate stance on immigration.

The average person might, if asked, talk about Bush’s poor handling of the Iraq War and the economy’s weak performance during his term.

These explanations all ring true enough. But there is a giant element which they do not account for. Nobody talks about this thing – this event. It is only when one reads George W. Bush’s wikipedia article, that one goes – “Ah! I remember that. He really failed on that.”

Hurricane Katrina + Bush

Think back to 2005. President George W. Bush has recently won a close re-election. The president has long ago lost the support of the America intelligentsia and the left (along with the world). But, according to polls, half the country still supports him; his approval ratings are in the high 40s.

It is late August now, and reports are coming in of a hurricane headed directly at a major American city. Scientists name it Katrina.

I think you can finish the story – of how the levees fell, of Mike Brown and “heck of a job”, of the death of an American city and how the word “incompetence” became permanently associated with Bush’s administration.

Hurricane Katrine constituted a tipping point from which Bush’s presidency never recovered. It summed up all of Bush’s weaknesses and failures in one illuminating moment. After that momentous failure, Bush’s approval ratings never again entered positive territory; he spent the remainder of his second term a premature lame duck, especially after Democrats retook control of Congress.

That is fairly ironic, because in many ways the man made far better decisions in his last four years.


by inoljt

We Are a Nation in Decline

11:26 am in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: Inoljt,

On the eighth anniversary of 9/11, a professor of mine made a comment that caused a lot of soul-searching for me. He remarked, quite casually, that the United States is in decline.

Those words angered me. Nobody likes to hear their country characterized in that manner. But ever since then I’ve been considering that casual statement.

I think it accurately describes the state of our nation.

We are a nation in decline.

We are in decline for a variety of reasons, some more controllable and some less so. Economic weakness has something to do with it, as does the popularity of anti-Americanism (thank you, George Bush). Misadventures in the Middle East and the rise of China also play a participating role.

But enough about why we are in decline. What can be done to stop it?

There are two courses for the United States to take, both of which can somewhat alter its path of late. The first is to pay less attention to the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, that region of the world drew the undivided attention of the United States; to this day, it is still obsessed with Iraq and Iran and Israel and Afghanistan and on and on.

Most would agree that the United States has been hurt by this obsession. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have and continue to drain its energy and finances. America’s world image (and soft power) has been terribly damaged, strengthening those less friendly to it. Moreover, the Middle East has relatively little of value to offer, save for oil. And even that valuable resource does not justify excessive entanglements in a place that, more than any other part of the world, dislikes the concept of the United States.

The second bit of advice I have is to admit more immigrants. An immigrant is the best thing a nation can have. By definition, he (or she) is ambitious and hard-working enough to move thousands of miles, away from friends and family, to a place where he does not speak the language or know anybody. Very few people are motivated enough to do this.

Immigrants have created millions of jobs: the late 1990s technology boom was the product of Chinese and Indian immigrants who moved to Silicon Valley. Albert Einstein was an immigrant; Barack Obama is the son of an immigrant. For continued economic growth and national welfare, admitting more Albert Einsteins and Barack Obamas (the father, who had the same name as the president) is absolutely essential.

Every year the United States denies entry to an enormous amount of potential immigrants – the cream of the crop of humankind. Sadly, the immigration debate today is dominated by illegal immigration and nativist anger; it is unlikely that America’s doors will crack wider anytime soon. What cost appeasing anti-immigrant sentiment does to the well-being of the nation as a whole is unknown, but it is certainly great.

Admitting more immigrants might not reverse U.S. decline, nor might limiting U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Superpowers – whether they be Spain, Britain, America, or China – do not and cannot last forever; in the end they all fall. But perhaps, if these two suggestions are followed, the United States might just last longer than most.