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“Poppy Speaks Out At Last — Too Little, Too Late”: The American People Are Still Paying The Price

If only “Poppy” had quit in 1992, after one White House term, then the 41st president’s fruit would not be so bitter. George Herbert Walker Bush would have dined out on German reunification and the multinational coalition in the first Gulf War — a desert cakewalk. Through no fault of his own, the Soviet Union and the Cold War ended on his watch, and that should be enough for any man pushing 70.

“I didn’t finish the job,” Bush I said. He’s now 91.

Out on the stump, the monumentally ambitious president found he could not connect to the American people. A jolly good fellow who wrote a ton of thank-you notes, he went as far as China and Langley for the blue-chip resume, always a team player who never had “the vision thing.”

Earlier, in 1988, he won as Ronald Reagan’s chosen understudy. But like many men of his Ivy League WASP war hero mold, he could not speak straight to the heart of people at home. Not to save his political life. His speech often sounded strangled.

A new biography, an elegant volume composed by author and presidential historian Jon Meacham, is titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. It’s based on the former president’s diaries and revealing chats, often at the family compound on the Maine coast.

The result of that sharing is the most generous portrait that the former president, nicknamed “Poppy” since prep school, could hope for. Meacham’s work is written in a gentlemanly spirit, just as his American Lion book on the gruff general and president, Andrew Jackson, glowed. For that he won the Pulitzer Prize. (Meacham once deftly edited a magazine piece of mine.) Meacham excuses Bush’s mean moments in political combat as untrue to his code. (The 1988 campaign was not pretty.) Nor does he pass judgment on Bush’s loyal service to President Richard M. Nixon.

Bush realized late there was no way to win against the young Bill Clinton, who could coax the stars out of the sky. The generational contrast was stark. We learn that Bush confided to his diary that he felt the war-high in his approval rating was thin ice. The future won; the past lost. Bush had been schooled and worked in exclusively male institutions; Clinton was educated in co-ed settings and married another Yale Law School graduate. (Barbara Pierce Bush dropped out of Smith College to marry Poppy.)

Now it turns out, tragically, Poppy’s speech troubles extended to his own firstborn son George W. Bush as wily Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney — who pushed the nation down the path of war in Iraq. More than most, the Bushes have played their family dramas out in public, at our expense. The American people are still paying the bill — and so are Iraq, Syria and other countries bathed in blood. The show was not even fun to watch.

The Bushes are not just genteel from a long New England line. Their manners mask a cutthroat bunch — jocks who don’t crack books much — when they aren’t writing adoring notes to fellow Bushes. Winning and loyalty are cherished, whether it’s horseshoes or the Florida presidential contest in 2000. They have their men, like lifelong friend James Baker, always there to help in a pinch. In Florida, with brother Jeb Bush as governor, the cliffhanger was almost a cosmic family thank-you note to opponent Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president — whom Poppy had once referred to as a pair of “bozos.” (Now he and Clinton are tight.)

Cheney’s war-mongering as his son’s vice president offended Poppy; building up his own power base was the last thing he would have done as Reagan’s No. 2. Bush, ever the good team player, found Cheney’s aggression a terrible influence. Yet Poppy had hired Cheney to be his secretary of defense and so — well, it was all in the tribe. As a seasoned foreign policy hand, Poppy knew the “axis of evil” language used by his son was trouble. But he never spoke “mano a mano” to his son, as columnist Maureen Dowd noted.

So why not say something at the time to us, the American people? It’s clear: We’re not their kind, dear.


By: Jamie Stiehm, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 13, 2015

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George H. W. Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Iraq And A Hard Place”: Jeb And The Neocon Trap

Are the neoconservatives turning on Jeb Bush? It would be ironic, considering the men his brother turned to for foreign policy advice. It would also be highly problematic—since foreign policy establishment hawks should represent one of Bush’s few natural constituencies on the right. But it’s hard to observe recent developments and not suspect something is afoot.

I’ve often observed that Sen. Rand Paul has to walk a fine line in order to keep all the disparate elements of his coalition together, but it’s increasingly looking like Jeb Bush is having to do the same thing. He has the legacies of his father and brother to contend with. And while these legacies aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, they aren’t necessarily complementary, either. And therein lies the trap for Jeb: Does he alienate the GOP’s main cadre of foreign policy activists and thinkers, or does he saddle up with them and risk being seen as the second coming of his brother?

The foreign policy “realist” community hopes Jeb will be the “smart” son and follow the “prudent” footsteps of his father. Bush 41 oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union and liberated Kuwait without toppling Saddam, a move that—depending on where you stand—was either an example of prudence or cowardice. But neoconservatives prefer George W. Bush’s more aggressive foreign policy, and want the GOP to nominate a hawk in 2016. Now Jeb Bush’s campaign needs to figure out what kind of President Bush he would be, and he likely won’t be able to assuage the concerns of both camps.

The conundrum, presumably, began when Jeb announced his foreign policy team. Much was made of the fact that many of his advisers had served in previous Bush administrations. This was much ado about nothing. Any Republican who gained senior foreign policy experience in the last quarter of a century would likely have worked for a Bush administration.

More interesting was the amount of daylight between the foreign policy advisers who served his father and his brother—a cleavage that is especially noteworthy in the context of the larger discussion taking place right now, regarding Iran and Israel. There’s a lot of range between the neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz and an old-school GOP realist like James Baker, yet both are on the list of Jeb advisers.

Speaking of Baker, the Washington Free Beacon, which is widely thought of as a neoconservative outlet, recently noted: “Jeb Bush’s selection of Baker as a foreign policy adviser has sparked concern among conservatives and in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Baker is infamous for his hostility to Israel, having said during his tenure as secretary of state in the George H.W. Bush administration, ‘F–k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.’ Baker is also a supporter of President Obama’s Iran negotiations.”

As the Free Beacon expected, Baker—who served as Secretary of State during George H.W. Bush’s administration—did not go easy on Israel when he addressed the liberal J Street conference. And this has led to some think that Jeb Bush might seek to follow his father’s foreign policy—not his brother’s.

In a world where Republicans are trying to out-hawk one another, this might sound absurd. But presidents have been known to govern differently from the way they campaign—remember in 2000 when Bush ran as the anti-“nation building” candidate? “The older Bush circle seems confident that Jeb sided with his father and Brent Scowcroft on the folly of letting the neocons push America into diverting from Osama to Saddam,” wrote Maureen Dowd. (It should be noted that Scowcroft penned a 2002 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Don’t Attack Saddam,” which was eerily prescient in many regards.)

Some are clearly worried that Dowd is right—that Jeb is a chip off the old block. “Whether Jeb disavows James Baker, & how quickly & strongly, could be an oddly important early moment in GOP race,” Bill Kristol tweeted (linking to a Politico story about Baker blasting Bibi). This isn’t an anomaly. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin writes that a source at a Jewish organization told her: “Jim Baker’s bitterly critical comments of Israel and Netanyahu conjured up the worst memories of the H. W. Bush administration’s confrontation with the Jewish state. Any 2016 campaign that takes advice and counsel from him will raise serious questions and concerns from the pro-Israel community.”

The comparatively moderate, intellectually inclined Jeb Bush would seem like a natural candidate for neoconservatives to rally behind. But Baker speaking at J Street while working for the campaign in some capacity is cause for concern. This is dangerous if prominent hawks start to suspect that Jeb might not be as friendly to their cause as the Ted Cruzes of the world. Kristol and Rubin would seem to be sending a message to Bush that he can’t take their support for granted. They need him to prove that he’s a lot more like Dubya than his dad. Given Jeb’s vulnerabilities with so much of the rest of the conservative coalition, they’re in a good position to make demands. And he’s not in a good position to deny them.

Politico is already reporting that Jeb Bush is distancing himself from Baker, noting that he “disagrees” with him on Israel. And writing at National Review Wednesday morning, Jeb made his pro-Israel position clear. Let’s see if that’s enough for the critics. If Jeb really wants to win the nomination, he might have to drop Jim Baker like a bad habit.


By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, March 26, 2015

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Israel, Jeb Bush, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“High Noonan”: Mitt Romney Needs A New Biography, A New Personality, And A New Party

The latest intramural brouhaha in the GOP centers on the unlikely figure of my favorite columnist, the ineffably successful Peggy Noonan.

Earlier this week, you may recall, she penned a column (or a blog post, as it was styled, presumably because her rambling comments could not be edited, or were so urgent as to require immediate publication) that lashed Mitt Romney’s campaign for “incompetence” and then wandered around whatever keyboard or cocktail napkin she was drafting it on before settling on the suggestion that Romney deliver a “big speech” in Brooklyn. Yes, Brooklyn.

Anyhow, this act of heresy produced sufficient heartburn in the Romney campaign or amusement among her superannuated Republican cronies that she followed up today with a new blast at Team Mitt. This time around, perhaps with the aid of an editor, she produced an actual on-the-record quote from a “corporate strategist” who analyzed Romney’s mistakes at considerable, if unoriginal, length. Having teed up this moment (like all moments for many MSM pundits) as crucial, Noonan delivered herself of another Big Idea for Mitt, which is about as plausible as a redefining speech in Brooklyn: Romney needs his very own Jim Baker to take control of his campaign. Indeed, she may be (her crystalline prose leaves this unclear) be urging Romney to bring on the actual Jim Baker to take control of his campaign. Since Baker is 82 years old, I don’t think that’s happening. But putting that aside, the idea that Mitt Romney is going to bring in some Yoda to turn his campaign upside down with just over six weeks until election day is, well, the sort of thing only Peggy Noonan could say.

More generally, this Aging Republican Establishment obsession with alleged staff errors is a pretty good indicator these folks haven’t a clue about the structural problems facing Mitt, who rendered himself virtually immobile in winning the GOP nomination over a weak field and now has no record to run on, and an agenda he’s afraid to talk about–totally aside from having the least attractive persona of any GOP nominee since Nixon. Mitt doesn’t need a “new CEO,” Peggy; he needs a new biography, a new personality, and a new party–you know, one that doesn’t either demand he loudly promote a suicidal policy agenda, or sit around carping about how he doesn’t do things like Ronnie.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 21, 2012

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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