Editorial Roundup for Tuesday — December 13, 2005

• The presidency: No more Mr. Nice Guy


The presidency: No more Mr. Nice Guy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 12, 2005:

Now we know why Americans’ support for the war in Iraq has dropped over the last year. It wasn’t the bombings and the hundreds of deaths of American soldiers. It wasn’t the gutting of the Army’s manpower and readiness. It wasn’t the revelations of prisoner abuse. It wasn’t the $6 billion- a-month added to the deficit. It wasn’t the venality of politically connected contractors. It wasn’t the grand jury investigation into the outing of a CIA agent.

No, support for the war dropped because President George W. Bush was just too darned nice.

We have this on the authority of a “senior White House aide” who dropped this pearl on the credulous columnist Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, the house organ for Washington’s neo-conservatives. The Standard ceaselessly beat the drums for invading Iraq, including this memorable statement by its editor, William Kristol, in November 2002: “We know Saddam is building weapons of mass destruction and that he is hiding them.”

Mr. Barnes, in the Dec. 12 issue of The Standard, explains that the president’s plummeting poll numbers were caused by a “conscious decision” that the president made after his re-election to be “non-political” on the subject of Iraq. “It is a decision he now regrets,” Mr. Barnes writes confidently. “And has reversed.”

Mr. Barnes’ source confides, “The strategic decision was to be forward-looking.” The president would speak about Iraq and its progress, the source said, but he wouldn’t respond to partisan attacks.

Mr. Barnes surmises that Mr. Bush wanted to be more “statesmanlike” in his second term. Thus, he says, he broke with conservatives who immediately wanted to make tax cuts permanent and “steered the presidential tax reform commission away from radical tax reform.” It’s also why he “took responsibility” for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina and nominated people to the Supreme Court who wouldn’t ignite instant opposition by the Democrats, Mr. Barnes reveals.

Oh. And here we thought even conservatives were backing away from tax cuts in the face of huge war and hurricane relief costs. And that the president was treating his tax reform commission’s proposal to eliminate the mortgage deduction like it was a ticking bomb. And we thought FEMA and the hapless hacks at its helm really did botch Katrina relief. And as for his Supreme Court nominees, John G. Roberts Jr. flew under the radar, but Harriet Myers was an embarrassment and Samuel J. Alito Jr. is hardly non-controversial.

Mr. Barnes is no doubt encouraged that the poll numbers for the new “No More Mr. Nice Guy” president who emerged on Veterans Day have rebounded. The president, of course, says he pays no attention to polls.

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