THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS
The Washington Post (registration required) isn't much off the mark in its editorial today in describing those shortcomings of the president and oversights in his and his team's planning that have come to bedevil him and his administration early in his second term. Of note is that WaPo is fair-minded in its reference to the federal indictment handed down against Scooter Libby and, in terms of the war in Iraq, it faults the president more for a failure in planning for a reconstruction than for the merits of the invasion itself.
While not a litany that conservatives would wholeheartedly agree with, on substance it's far from a hit piece and more balanced than one might anticipate.
But unquestionably Mr. Bush is in trouble, and if he is to recover, he needs to acknowledge the root causes of his misfortunes. There may be less to learn from the indictment of Mr. Libby, whose alleged perjury appears to be the result of his own miscalculations, than from some other recent stumbles. Ms. Miers's failed Supreme Court candidacy, for one, is emblematic of a broader and persistent Bush failing: a lack of intellectual seriousness, which goes hand in hand with his excessive trust in loyalists.
Mr. Bush's impatience with policy minu-
tiae also leads him to advance positions without thinking them through. He prefers to offer bold ideas over effective ones, to take credit for easy victories without making hard choices. He has cut taxes and said he wants spending to be cut, too, but his officials have no plausible scenario for how the budget can be restored to balance. He set out to reform Medicare, the most ruinous of all the entitlement programs, and ended up with a law that made it vastly more expensive. He invaded Iraq in the hope of spreading democracy through the region, among other reasons, but his officials failed to plan for reconstruction. In confronting al Qaeda, Mr. Bush rightly grasped that this was a new kind of war that demanded new ways of fighting. But he pursued that broad conviction with a counterproductive indifference to substance, taking positions on civil liberties that harmed U.S. standing and that the Supreme Court later ruled untenable.
If Mr. Bush is to revive his presidency, there can be no substitute for sweating the detail; the choices that reach the president's desk are never going to be the easy ones. A host of issues awaits his attention, from China's military buildup to militant Iran, from post-hurricane reconstruction to the recommendations from his tax commission to the Supreme Court vacancy. Each of these represents an opportunity for Mr. Bush to reassert his authority by advancing the nation's interests. But to do that he needs to grapple with hard issues in fresh, creative ways -- a challenge that may in turn require him to recruit fresh thinkers to his inner circle.
POSTSCRIPT: The WaPo editorial does not mention the illegal immigration/porous borders problem in terms of "the host of issues that await his (the president's) attention." That is a careless, but telling oversight. No doubt if the Congress and the president had their way, the indifference would continue unabated and the "poor people willing to do jobs that Americans refuse to do" canard would continue to justify an invasion born of the need for so-called "cheap labor" that is, in point of fact, taxpayer-subsidized labor, as well as the desire for Latino voters without, were politicians to have their way, the need for any I.D. at the polling place. But Americans in both Red and Blue states -- indeed more than just a simple majority -- are fed up and view Homeland Security and 11+ million illegal aliens in our country as a gross contradiction in terms. They're not fooled by the rhetoric. They know national security is threatened. They want something done, and they want it done now, and they want tighter border enforcement first, long before they'll entertain amnesty disguised as Guest Worker Programs -- programs that the federal government can't possibly manage any better than it does its other White Elephants. Border security shouldn't get short shrift in the MSM and particularly on the editorial pages.