The End of Bush the Bold
December 31, 2002
To read the conservative and neoconservative
press, youd think that President George W. Bush combined
the military genius of Napoleon, the courage of Coriolanus, and the moral
wisdom of Confucius. My own view is that he confirms the truth of the
adage Never send a boy to do a mans job.
presidency is more a Supermans job. Nobody should be given
or trusted with that much power and responsibility.
Nobody can possibly handle it.
By abandoning our
Constitution, in which the legislative branch is supreme, we have
permitted the executive branch to assume a centrality it was never meant
to have. The president is now said to be our leader.
Hes expected to provide governance, protection, economic
expertise, geopolitical cunning, and inspiration, among other things; and of
course he also has to have a talent for raising money and winning
Rare is the man who
can master even one of these disparate, unrelated, almost miscellaneous
skills. Requiring all of them is like asking a single individual to excel at
playing the harpsichord, logical theory, standup comedy, chess, and
In these terms, nobody
can be a good president. He can only play one on TV. Reagan was superb at
this impersonation; Bill Clinton might have been just as good, if only he
hadnt set an unhappy precedent by splashing his personal foibles
onto the front pages.
But Bush? For most of
his first year in the Oval Office he gave us the impression he was lost in
the job. After the 9/11 attacks, however, he seemed to achieve a new
stature. Maybe we were right the first time.
In the wake of the
attacks, Bush adopted the posture of Gary Cooper in High
Noon. He played a resolute hero who knew what he was doing. It
flew with the public and most of the pundits; even his liberal critics were
impressed. But he quickly diverted from a war on terrorism
to an irrelevant war on Iraq.
He sealed his
obsession with Iraq by naming it one of the three points on an axis
of evil, along with Iran and North Korea. He said Iraq posed an
urgent danger because it was ruled by a cruel tyrant bent on acquiring
nuclear weapons and threatening the whole region, if not the whole world.
answering this lurid description has now stepped forward, and it
isnt Saddam Hussein. Its North Koreas Kim Jong Il.
Kim has nukes, and
hes not hiding it. Hes bragging about it. He dares Bush to
stop him. He passes the cruel tyrant test with flying colors.
Hes a Communist of the Stalin-Mao ilk, permitting mass starvation
in his country rather than relaxing his iron grip. He seems quite cheerfully
willing to go to war with his neighbors. And this is to say nothing of his
funny teeth and haircut: he even looks eerie.
How cruel is he? Well,
desperate North Koreans are actually risking their sorry lives to flee to
China, making China the first Communist country ever to have an
illegal-immigrant problem. The North Korean media call Kim the Dear
So how is Bush
handling this certified monster? Very awkwardly. In amusing contrast to
his tough talk about prostrate Iraq, Bush is treating North Korea as a
diplomatic problem, nothing urgent. What about those weapons of mass
destruction? Surely we can resolve our little differences like gentlemen.
What about the axis of evil? Just a figure of speech, it
seems. No hard feelings.
Kim seems to feel
differently. He may be crazy, but hes not stupid. When he heard
Bush speak of that axis of evil, he heard hit
list, and he figured North Koreas turn might be coming when
Bush was finished with the Middle East.
So Kim decided to
upset Bushs schedule by shaking nukes in his face before he was
ready. Why wait for war at Bushs convenience? Why not challenge
him preemptively, as it were? Sure enough, Bush, the brave cowboy,
backed off fast. He realized he wasnt dealing with a mere Saddam
So much for Bush the
Bold. Yes, the presidency is too big a job for any man, but Bush, its
now clear, is far, far out of his depth. Publishing his hit list was an act of
the most puerile bravado.