A couple of weeks ago, while on Meet the Press, Peggy Noonan offered some advice to Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
Romney, she said, “has to kick away from and define himself against what happened for the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency [.]”
I couldn’t agree more.
As Noonan rightly observes, not only did Bush’s tenure culminate in “economic collapse;” it presided over “two long, frustrating wars that people think were not won.”
Romney, Noonan insists, must resist his opponents’ efforts to depict him as determined to “bring that stuff back.”
To hear the Republican pundits of talk radio and Fox News tell it, one could be pardoned for thinking either of one of two things. One sufficiently reasonable inference we can draw is that the Bush presidency was not an unqualified betrayal of everything that these very same “conservative” pundits claim to affirm. The other—the only other—proposition left for us to conclude is that the eight years of Bush never occurred.
But the hard, ugly fact of the matter is that the Bush presidency most certainly did occur. And for as memory-impaired as Americans tend to be, they remember it.
This, though, isn’t as surprising as it may sound. In fact, with Bush supporters like Bill Bennett—one of Noonan’s interlocutors on Sunday—rehashing the same talking points that figured so prominently for the better part of a decade, it would be surprising if Americans hadn’t yet recovered completely from their Bush fatigue.
Bennett asserted that we shouldn’t “throw out” the entirety of Bush’s presidency, for the 43rd president “did a lot of fine things.”
Predictably—incredibly?—the only example of such “fine things” that Bennett offered was that of the Iraq War. “We won the war in Iraq,” he declared definitively.
Now, whether Bennett’s judgment is accurate or not is not the issue. The point is that very few Americans think that Bennett and his ilk are correct on this score. And of those who sympathize with his position, most don’t believe that the blood, time, and treasure our country invested in Iraq was worth it.
But it isn’t just Bennett who reminds voters of the Bush years. From talk radio and Fox News personalities to politicians like John McCain, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney himself, Republicans, whether inadvertently or otherwise, do so as well.
Whenever Republicans accuse President Obama of being an “appeaser” or of “leading from behind” on the world stage, they remind voters of just how belligerent Bush’s foreign policy really was.
Bear in mind, Obama was responsible for “the surge” of some 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. He deployed soldiers to Libya to assist rebels in overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi, and invaded Pakistan to have Osama bin Laden assassinated. Obama has also arranged for repeated drone attacks on al-Qaida terrorists in this same country.
In other words, Obama is no dove. He could never credibly be mistaken for a pacifist or even a non-interventionist.
Republicans know this. While they blast him for being weak on foreign policy, they also describe his policies as being a continuation of those of Bush! They further concede that Obama is not an “appeaser” when they blast him for deliberately revealing to the media such national security related secrets as the drone attacks that he has authorized.
When Republicans say that Obama is weak on national defense and foreign policy, what they can all too easily be interpreted as saying is that they do indeed want to “bring that stuff back” from the Bush years, to use Noonan’s words. Actually, if Obama’s policies are continuous with those of Bush, but Obama is too weak, then it would appear that Republicans want an agenda that is even more aggressive than that of Bush’s.
This is all worth bringing up. Yet it is especially worthwhile doing so in the immediate aftermath of the American embassy attack that unfolded on our second 9/11 in Libya.
This latest event has thrust the issue of foreign policy to the forefront of an election season that has thus far involved relatively little talk of anything other than the economy. Romney has come out forcefully against Obama’s response, in so many words repeating the Republican refrain of weakness against the latter. Romney has been no less forceful in condemning the murderous rioters who stormed the embassy.
Romney’s utterances here are understandable and probably, given his aspiration to unseat Obama, unavoidable. Perhaps they will even prove to be to his benefit.
But they could also be a double-edged sword.
In the absence of an unqualified promise to get our people the hell out of these Middle Eastern lands, it is with the greatest of ease that Romney’s tough talk could suggest to many a voter that his administration would be at least another four more years of Bush.
Since a majority of Americans will recoil from this idea, Romney and his fellow partisans may want to rethink their approach to our endless troubles in the Islamic world.