The political quote of the day comes from Mark Joseph, writing on Fox News’ Fox Forum blog. His question: what would have President George Bush’s 8 years been like if he hadn’t chosen Cheney and had chosen another Republican?
And his quote of the day raises the issue: was the real battle for the political soul of George Bush — a politician who had been a well-liked, largely moderate Governor in Texas — between Reaganism and Cheneyism…and did Reaganism lose?
There was a battle for the soul of George W. Bush between Reaganism and Cheneyism (Bush41-ism wasn’t even in the race) and Cheneyism triumphed and Reaganism was vanquished.
Cheneyism preceded Reaganism and was forged in the dark days of Watergate when presidential power was waning and was rooted in a man who, running as a congressman from the all-red state of Wyoming, never really had the need to convince, cajole or debate his way into public office. Cheney’s congressional seat was his for the asking.
Reaganism on the other hand was rooted in the life of a man who lived in Hollywood among his ideological enemies and somehow managed to hold on to his beliefs and forge strong friendships with those enemies even as he sought to convince them that they were mistaken. Cheneyism was rooted in the notion that it had no need to convince people of or explain policies, but that they could be implemented by brute force and that there was no need to even attempt to win over opponents. Reaganism was grounded in the notion that policies must be explained, detractors won over whenever possible, and that people could, with the right information be converted to another point of view.
This gets back to a concept discussed here since TMV was founded in late 2003: the idea that consensus, persuasion, unity, negotiation and broad coalition building are ingredients that make for a stronger, more efficient polity. At the end Joseph writes this:
A Bush without Cheney would still have struggled and perhaps come to the same conclusions on many issues, but he would have likely done so in the context of a moral framework that marked Reaganism but seemed to be missing from Cheneyism.
George W. Bush leaves office as one of the least popular presidents in the last century and in the aftermath of his presidency, the Republican party, if it is to be rebuilt, must decide which ism it prefers: one that was introduced to it by a sunny, optimistic ideologue, rooted in a notion of morality firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, who tempered ideology with just a dash of pragmatism that took into account that the populace had to be wooed if governance were to succeed, versus one introduced by a man who seemed to fail to grasp the notion that a government rooted in the notion of the consent of the governed, invariably meant that it was the job of those that governed it to constantly make efforts to win that consent by continually explaining and winning approval for those policies, and that all decisions needed to be rooted in the historic Judeo-Christian notion of what was right, on occasion at the expense of what was effective.
Governing isn’t just having the power to decide and ram through policies if you have enough votes to do it. As another President from Texas who suffered a credibility gap named Lyndon Johnson once noted, it was better to have someone inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in.
In the end, the Bush-Cheney administration needed major waterproofing.
But it doesn’t seem as if Bush has regrets about his way of doing things. In his final interviews, he is painting himself as a kind of Lone Ranger, to be admired because he ignored critics, opponents and the press and did what he felt was right.
There was nothing wrong with that. Except that the Bush/Cheney/Karl Rove concept of governing meant you had government of the base, by the base and for the base.
But this isn’t the United States of the Base.
It is the United States of America which includes independents, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, centrists and some others not included in these categories. And a serious effort was needed to bring them on board or at least to ensure that they weren’t treated as enemies or felt they were treated as such.
Reagan has been lambasted in some quarters for his policies and judgments on him depend on ideology. But Reagan understood the need to communicate and to persuade and to aggregate (versus aggravate) interests — not just ram things through and say “I’m the President and the decider and this is my decision. I have the power to say how it will be and this is how it is.”
So a onetime popular Texas Governor named George Bush took over the White House and eschewed the political style of Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower and his father — and of most Republicans who’ve held the Oval Office.
When history is written Cheney (and Rove) will be blamed for much of how a well-liked, consensus building Texas Governor morphed into someone who aroused anger not just because of his policies but because of his dismissive attitude towards those who didn’t have an “R” in front of their names. Governing by the base is OK unless you lose some of your base and then you have no fallback support.
It’s OK to say “My way or the highway…”
But then if you’ve chased people away, you could wind up with people not taking your way and the highway immobilized by traffic snarls and made unusable by deep, perilous potholes.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.