This story about Bush was lost in the news
Bush coughed up a Biden-sized gaffe, but he's still a better leader on his most cynical day than Biden is on his most lucid day.
I was going to publish this earlier in the week, but it was overcome by events.
If we played a game called “who said this?” with George W. Bush reading from both his own and Joe Biden’s speeches, there’s a good chance you’d get more than a few wrong. It’s not just the speeches, it’s the forthright belief that expanding the footprint and the jaws of the surveillance state is the answer to America’s problems. In that, you can’t convince me that both Bush and Biden aren’t dead wrong. But Biden is not Bush 2.0, and Bush is not Biden 1.0, as Matt Taibbi believes.
Matt Taibbi is an entertaining writer, whose breadth and depth of knowledge is stunningly broad and deep. I won’t even add the obligatory “for a journalist” hand-wave to that statement, because Taibbi doesn’t limit his source material to the bird-feeders business and political figures stock with tasty bits for the media; he also doesn’t festoon his life with the usual media social niceties. He, like so many iconoclasts in the journalism biz, has been booted to Substack.
Bush committed a Bidenism last week in a speech given at his eponymous institute spoke of stolen election conspiracies and Vladimir Putin.
The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean, of Ukraine.
Iraq too. Anyway. (laughs)
Taibbi posited (behind paywall) that the gaffe revealed a troubling truth:
Propaganda demands Bush take a dive now. Not only did his recent honesty malfunction complicate messaging about the unique iniquity of Russian aggression, he’s a living reminder of the uncomfortable truth that he and Joe Biden have essentially merged to become the same president.
In his next paragraph, Taibbi lays out his reasoning:
Biden is just a less likable, more deranged version of Dubya, a political potted plant behind which authoritarians rule by witch hunt and moral mania, with Joe floating on a somehow even fatter cloud of media protection than Bush enjoyed after 9/11. Today’s Biden is Bush, a helpless, terrified passenger dragged on a political journey beyond his comprehension, signing his name whenever told to appalling policies, like a child emperor or King George in the porphyria years. It’s obvious, but no one will bring it up, for the usual reason, i.e. because Trump. The major difference is that while Bush was hammered as a simpleton by media smart-alecks for eight years, Biden’s steep mental decline has gone uncovered in an undeclared press cease-fire.
I suppose this is true, as Obi-Wan told Luke, from a certain point of view. However, it’s not true by any objective measure. George W. Bush was not a “helpless, terrified passenger dragged on a political journey beyond his comprehension.” He was a detailed planner, with deeply personal reasons for taking every action he took. Dubya was more than a reflection of his own father, while Biden is the faded ghost of an unremarkable political career. If Bush 43 was projected through Bush 41’s life, the appropriate analogy to Biden would be if Dan Quayle became president. Biden is the Democratic Party projection of “potatoe” as POTUS.
None of us should deny Taibbi his point of view. It’s been hard-earned by living in post-Soviet Russia, covering the most malicious, rapacious aspects of our financial system and business practices, and turning over the mossy logs where the intelligence community breeds its maggots. From his point of view, Biden’s caregivers have steered him to the most imbecilic messaging, wasting valuable crises on things like a Ministry of Truth. Taibbi sees Bush through the funhouse lens of Jon Stewart lampooning a hagiographic one-dimensional president. But Taibbi sees Biden with pinpoint clarity.
George W. Bush was 30 years old, single, and drinking heavily the year that his father returned to Washington to become Director of Central Intelligence under President Gerald Ford. After that stint, while the elder Bush served at a Texas bank and prepared his 1980 presidential campaign, the younger Bush got married, gave up alcohol, took to reading his Bible daily, and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1978. He and a former Air National Guard buddy started Arbusto Energy, which became Bush Exploration. Ironically, early Arbusto investor James R. Bath represented Salem bin Laden, one of MBL’s (many) sons in the Saudi Binladen Group construction business. Investigations into conspiracy tales that this was a straw-investment by MBL in Bush have yielded no evidence.
Bush the son helped run Bush the father’s 1980 presidential campaign from Washington. It was W who delivered John Sununu the message of his firing. Throughout the 1980s Bush built his business and political capital. The whole time, Biden sat in the Senate, waving positions with the wind, his six-year plan tentpoled around the next election, and around the ever-tempting goal of running for president.
In 1988, Biden ran for President, banking on his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was instrumental in his role of borking Robert Bork. Biden’s nincompoop deficiencies were obvious in this campaign. He couldn’t keep a staff together on the same page. He plagiarized a speech from a British Labor Party leader. His aides cribbed lines from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy without telling Biden. All his life, Biden has gilded the lily and invented facts about his life. He borrowed so many stories from others—a serial plagiarist—that in his current mental state, it’s easy to doubt he knows which ones are really true and which ones he invented or gathered from others along the way.
By September of 1987, so many of Biden’s stolen fragments of speeches, false claims about his life, and concocted memories were buzzing the media that he ended his campaign, despite having raised the most money in the first quarter of that year than any other candidate. In 2008, Biden again withdrew, and settled into the reality that Vice President would be the pinnacle of his career. Yes, Biden is president today, but it’s more than defendable that the Vice Presidency is his high-water mark.
George W. Bush, in office, leaned heavily on the implicit trust he had in his father’s tenure at the CIA, and was also influenced by his own Vice President Dick Cheney. When Bush went into Iraq, he saw the same man—Saddam Hussein—who conducted a long and bloody war against Iran, invaded Kuwait, and gassed his own citizens. He saw Saddam as the embodiment of evil and unchecked ambition. The whole thing about WMDs was an exercise in plausible deniability and the intelligence community’s ability to justify pretty much anything.
But let’s clear this up: Bush was not some terrified passenger. He knew the kind of person MBL was, what al Queda was capable of, and how Afghanistan, Iraq and other players were happy to capitalize on their hatred for America. He acted on his instinct, and once committed, the IC and military were only too happy to feed him exactly what he wanted to hear, with little regard for the long game. Somehow, Democracy™ would simply implant itself and germinate in a New Iraq: that was the plan. It was as pollyannaish as Lyndon Johnson’s plan to defeat North Vietnam (versus Kissinger’s cynical “Vietnamization”). Obama continued this unrealistic version of human nature applied to his Arab Spring initiative, with equally disastrous results.
Bush was not some straw-man who couldn’t comprehend the difference between pre-recording a speech to be broadcast a day later in California (“but I’m not in California” per David Frum’s book as quoted by Taibbi), and being inaccurate in the speech itself. The man simply has an ingrained penchant for telling the actual truth. He’s the kind of guy who would pepper the vacuum cleaner salesman with questions and challenges to the normal schtick to the point where they’d give up and go away. He’s the kind of guy who would rather quietly hand you a Tic Tac than compliment you on your youthful visage—because your breath smells like a garbage truck. There’s no guile in Bush when it comes to these things.
However, when it comes to self-deception in service of a larger motive, like going into Iraq to get Saddam, which his own father failed to complete, Bush would buy the vacuum, and all the accessories if the Intelligence Community was selling it. Everything Bush did in service of the “Deep State” with unlimited power to spy and act against American citizens, he did it in his own mind to protect us. In that he was naïvely walking into a trap that produced Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s scorched earth campaign against Donald Trump.
Biden is nothing like Bush in that respect. Biden is a pure politician who has done nothing but festoon the halls of the Senate with his presence for half a century. Whatever seems popular and politically astute for the party beginning with a “D” is what Biden aspires to believe. But occasionally, as in every day, his real beliefs escape in the form of gaffes. When Biden said he wanted Putin gone, he meant it. When Biden said the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily, he meant it. Neither of those served the policy goals of the United States, but they accurately represented what Biden wanted.
In truth, Biden is the opposite of Bush. Biden would buy the vacuum cleaner if it meant the salesman would vote for him and his party. He’d buy 10 of them and tell you to buy one too. But Biden would say the next day what a piece of crap the vacuum was, and mean it, then walk it back.
In his advanced age, it’s clear that Biden’s mental acuity has faded. His ability to hold back his own blurted opinions is diminished. Ron Klain is really running the White House. The DoD is on its own. The State Department is on auto-pilot. The Department of Transportation is on parental leave. The economy is running like a swift river raft headed for a waterfall, and Biden is happily paddling to help it get there faster.
On his most cynical day, Bush is a better leader than Biden is on his most lucid day. They are not the same: they only look alike when you, like Taibbi, paint them with the same huge brush.
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