Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush "Insincere", says David Brooks

At last, an admission from someone in the know.

From Brooks's September 11 appearance on NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: Do you think there's a problem with this? I remember when the president wrote in his diary -- his father, President Bush senior -- "you know, I picked [former Vice President Dan] Quayle the first time around, and I wish I hadn't. But I'm stuck with him, and I can't admit it." Is there a problem with this president simply admitting, "I put the wrong people at certain jobs, I didn't get back fast enough to the White House, I wasn't calling the orders fast enough?"

BROOKS: From Day One, they had decided that our public relations is not going to be honest. Privately, they admit mistakes all the time. Publicly -- and I've had this debate with them since Day One; I always say admit a mistake, people will give you credit --

MATTHEWS: Who do you debate this with?

BROOKS: With people who work in the White House.

MATTHEWS: I thought you were talking about with the president in the back room.


BROOKS: Not with him, but they represent what he believes, which is, if you admit a mistake, you get no credit from your enemies, and then you open up another week's story, because the admission of a little mistake leads to the admission of big mistakes and another week's story. It's totally tactical and totally insincere.

More at Media Matters For America. The cracks started showing in Brooks cheerleading for the Bush camp a couple of weeks ago when the Iraqi constitution went tits up and he ran a long op-ed extolling alternative strategies for the military in their fight with insurgents. He really broke out when Katrina became the "natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster" and showed how the Right has left all the poor of the US behind. Now it looks like one of the US's best writers has finally decided enough is enough and he will be an honest writer too, no longer complicit in the Bush plan to never admit error. I certainly hope so.

Yesterday Bush took time out from a press conference with the Iraqi President to tell reporters:

Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government...To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

But given Brooks' admission and the way in which Bush intends to take charge of the investigation into federal fault - investigating whether he should take responsibility - himself, we should all take those words with a huge pinch of salt and view tham as just more White House spin.

Given Brooks' words, though, it's interesting to note that Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspapers in foreign climes have been less than supportive of Bush this last two weeks too. The Australian, the newspaper that Murdoch takes most editorial control over, ran Andrew Sullivan's column entitled "Buck Stops At Bush" on the 12th and the London Times, the prize jewel of Murdoch's empire has likewise been critical of the Bush administration in the Katrina aftermath. A long article in the Sunday Times on the 11th said:

In Washington the blame game is intensifying. With polls showing that up to 60% of voters disapprove of President George W Bush’s performance, he can count himself lucky he is not standing for re-election. He failed as comforter in chief and as chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation.

As the levees protecting New Orleans broke, filling the "bowl" of the city with water, Bush gave a speech about the "need to stay the course" in Iraq. A day later he flew over the devastated area, peering down at the little people left to fend for themselves, before asserting on television the next morning, "I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." In fact several official reports had long been predicting just that.

Fellow Republicans have been appalled by his lack of grip on the crisis, from his initial lackadaisical response to the scandalously inept execution of the relief operation.

The whole government was caught napping. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, was shopping for shoes in New York and laughing at the Monty Python play Spamalot while New Orleans sank, and Dick Cheney, vice-president, was fly-fishing in Wyoming.

Bush’s praise for "Brownie" — Michael Brown, the discredited head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) — for doing a "a heck of job", will be particularly difficult to live down.

Brits remember that when Murdoch's newspapers dumped the Conservatives after almost two decades of wholehearted support it made the very first landslide election of Tony Blair an utter certainty. It seems to me that there is no single candidate, either from the Republicans or the Democrats, who has yet garnered Murdoch's favour but it is no longer a sure bet that his eventual preference will be on the Right. In particular, Murdoch is a secularist who has no patience for moralising preacher-politicos who would harm his profits by restricting salacious TV or pressuring against showing pretty nearly-nude women on page three.

Can you imagine the upset to everyone's thinking if Fox News did for a Democratic candidate what the Sun and the News of The World did for Tony Blair - endorsed that candidate over its traditional biases, signalling an utter seachange from the vehicle many who would have voted for the Right rely on for their news and opinion? There must be at least a few Democrat hopefuls wondering how they can be that Annointed One and quite a few GOP "media managers", including Karl Rove, having sleepless nights at the possibility.

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