One of the most outrageous aspects of the recent Bush administration counter-offensive aimed at reversing the president’s bad poll ratings has been an effort to recast him as a brave, tough and far-sighted Commander-in-Chief in the tradition of Harry S. Truman (Condi Rice, in particular, has been promoting this wildly revisionist argument).Over at TPMCafe, G. John Ikenberry demolishes this false analogy in considerable detail, mainly in terms of Truman’s strategy for dealing with the post-World-War-II challenges facing America, which couldn’t be much farther from Bush’s strategy in the war on terror. Please read it all.I would, however, like to supplement Ikenberry’s analysis by pointing to the radically different leadership styles of Truman and Bush.Truman famously said of the presidency that “the buck stops here.” Bush’s aversion to admitting mistakes or taking accountability for his administration’s actions is so extreme and notorious that he actually gets praise for his occasional “mistakes were made” admissions, invariably abstract rather than specific, that perhaps he isn’t infallible.Truman quickly and decisively fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur as military commander in Korea, at a time when MacArthur was far more popular than the president himself. Bush cannot bring himself to fire Donald Rumsfeld, whose departure would not cause a ripple in public opinion, and would be quietly celebrated throughout most of the armed forces.Truman was of course a fiery partisan, but he also cooperated with Republicans whenever possible, especially in foreign policy. Bush pretends to be “above party,” while in practice (with the sole exception of the No Child Left Behind legislation) treating Democrats who don’t simply surrender to him as nonentities to be ignored if not destroyed.I would have to guess that this campaign to make Bush “the new Truman” is based on the superficial identification of the two presidents as simple, resolute and non-reflective men who never worried much about criticism.Truman, of course, was a man from a very humble background, who did not attend college. Yet his administration built virtually the entire complex superstructure of multilateral organizations and policies, economic as well as diplomatic and military, that guided the West throughout the Cold War and beyond.Bush, the ultimate child of privilege, with a presidential father, a prep school education, and degrees from two Ivy League universities, has actively cultivated a non-reflexive attitude, and is “visionary” only in the imagination of his speechwriters.I obviously don’t expect the Bushies to advertise their boss as the reincarnation of some more likely figure such as Warren G. Harding, but still, this Truman Show does not pass the laugh or smell tests.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.