Union Reaction
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Jan. 30 2002 10:55 AM

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Morning, David—

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All right. He's found his voice. It was a good, compact speech. The same editorialists who used to criticize Clinton for rambling on now lash Bush for not providing enough details. It's always something. But, transformational? I don't think so. The domestic policy side was a complete disappointment. The action was on the war front, and rightly so. But I have a real problem with the Evil Axis, which seemed a rhetorically awkward attempt to summon some of Reagan's Evil Empire juju. It's probably not very good policy, either. I assume this is a diplomatic game of three-card monte, with Iraq sheltering the pea. But it's an extremely dangerous game, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument is a bit of a phony: Iran and Iraq are working on chem and germ and nuclear mostly to deter each other—and secondarily to deter Israel. (Saddam used chemical weapons extensively in the war with Iran; the Iranians believe that we helped Saddam develop them.) Iran supports anti-Israeli terrorist groups, which is a disgrace, but our great pals, the Saudis, have bankrolled those guys for years. Why aren't they part of the Evil Axis? Here's an insidious idea: You want to really destabilize these countries? Recognize them. Open the borders, flood them with J. Lo CDs and Star Wars DVDs. This would completely bollix the mullahs who use the existence of a Great Satan as an excuse for oppression. (This would work in Cuba as well—without the Yanqui devil, Fidel would have no excuses for his disgraceful stewardship of a lovely country.) And here's a more serious bright line: If we find that any of these Evil Axions are supplying terrorists with WOMD, nuke them forthwith. My understanding is that Saddam knows that this is the unstated rule and has been very careful to abide by it.

Now a real disagreement between us: Bush, a "much better" president than Clinton? Oh, come on. First, it's way too soon to tell. Second, Clinton was a much better president than the Beltway ever acknowledged (the public knew his worth, which is why his approval ratings were so high for so many years—we'll see if Bush can maintain his). You asked me to name a leadership quality crucial to a successful presidency. Here's one: the willingness to tell people things they don't want to hear, the willingness to go against your party stalwarts. Clinton did this constantly, with very positive effects—raising taxes and using the money for deficit reduction (as opposed to social programs), favoring free trade, welfare reform, the Mexican bailout. There was a lot about Clinton that wasn't so hot, but you can't gainsay his courageous domestic policy. Bush was pretty bold during the 2000 campaign—lecturing GOP audiences on compassion for the poor and for immigrants—but I haven't seen much of it since. Aside from increasing funds for Head Start, what exactly did he propose last night that would cause anguish in the country clubs of the land?

Finally, the IQ question. Let me playfully offer an axiom: High IQ is a leading indicator of failure in a president, but an "interesting" personal life is a leading indicator of success. This doesn't always apply: Teddy Roosevelt and Truman didn't have very wild personal lives. But think of the high IQs: Hoover, Nixon, Carter. And think of the screw-ups: FDR, Eisenhower (Kay Summersby), Reagan (in Hollywood), Bush 43. Clinton was the first president since Woodrow Wilson to have both a high IQ and a powerhouse id, which, I guess, is why the results for both were so mixed.

All Best,
Joe

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