Saturday, March 31, 2007

Too Little, Too Late

Matthew Dowd, political strategist for George W. Bush in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, gives an interview with the New York Times in which he, um, "express[es] disappointment" with the president's leadership.

"He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides."

Really? It took him seven years to come to this realization?

“I think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people,” he said, “but bring the country together as a whole.”

Well, Matty, you had two more opportunities than most people ever will to orchestrate those kinds of campaigns. What did you do?

Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime...

Oh yeah, that...

...said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Well, it's a good thing you kept the irresponsible, crazy, lying flip-flopper out of office, isn't it?

In television interviews in 2004, Mr. Dowd said that Mr. Kerry’s campaign was proposing “a weak defense,” and that the voters “trust this president more than they trust Senator Kerry on Iraq.”

But he was starting to have his own doubts by then, he said.

Shit, man, why let your doubts get the best of you?

He describes as further cause for doubt two events in the summer of 2005: the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the president’s refusal, around the same time that he was entertaining the bicyclist Lance Armstrong at his Crawford ranch, to meet with the war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq.

“I had finally come to the conclusion that maybe all these things along do add up,” he said. “That it’s not the same, it’s not the person I thought.”

He never was.

He added, “I do feel a calling of trying to re-establish a level of gentleness in the world.”

Better hope it's not too late, asshole.

By the way, what's spurring this introspection, this dark night of the soul?

In the last several years, as he has gradually broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of Mr. Dowd’s premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic. Mr. Dowd said he had become so disillusioned with the war that he had considered joining street demonstrations against it, but that his continued personal affection for the president had kept him from joining protests whose anti-Bush fervor is so central.

I'm sorry that his marriage ended; I'm really, truly sorry that his daughter died; and I hope that his son returns from Iraq healthy and whole. But with that said, this smacks of a case of "I-Never-Thought-It-Would-Happen-To-Me" syndrome. It's the sort of thing that strikes people of a certain stature who think that poor people are poor because they don't work hard enough, marriages end because couples don't really understand what commitment is, children get sick or die because their parents are irresponsible or negligent, and only other people's children get sent halfway around the world to get shot at and potentially blown up. They lack the imagination or the empathy to put themselves in other people's shoes and to conceive of a world in which luck didn't favor them. In fact, luck is a foreign concept, as everything that happens is due to astute planning and diligent hard work. No breaks, no fortunes, all them.

And then, one by one, some misfortunes befall them, and suddenly a realization of the fragility of everyone's lives starts to dawn on them. Bad things happen because they happen, not necessarily because God is meting out judgment. Marriages can end, even if you love each other. Children can get sick, even if you do everything right. And if bad things can happen and not be punishment, then maybe the good things weren't rewards. Maybe they were luck. Maybe they were breaks. Maybe somebody knew somebody who owed a favor.

If Dowd has really learned something, if he feels that maybe he should atone for his sins, real or imagined, then he should really do something. He says about the 2008 presidential campaigns, "“I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t walking around in Africa or South America doing something that was like mission work," instead of working for any of the candidates. That's all well and good, but you cannot easily turn your back on a system that you helped to create, and walking around on another continent can be just a way of avoiding the consequences of your actions. I'm glad that he's sorry, but doing "something...like mission work" is a little flip-floppy, a little evasive, a little like "I was for this president before I was against him," and it isn't going to fix anything.