Sunday, February 02, 2003

The over-55-year-olds:

David Gergen was interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show last week. Normally a cautious fellow in his remarks, this time he had some startling things to say. Here is what Gergen thought about Bush:
"Surprised by it. I thought it would be a steel fist in a velvet glove, but it turned out to be a steel fist in a steel glove. It was a bang on the nose for a lot of people. It will move a lot of Americans, but not a lot of Europeans. It was too bellicose for their tastes."

"My sense is that this president has now taken this on with a missionary zeal that has theological roots to it. He is a man who believes his life was turned around by God. That God actively intervenes in human affairs. And that he senses that his God-given mission right now is to protect the United States ... I think he feels almost a religious sense of commitment - a missionary sense - to do that. And I think that was what was really interesting about the speech."

"Ronald Reagan talked about having a leaner government, but George Bush is serious about dismantling much of the structure of the Great Society. ... I think he's much tougher than Reagan. Reagan cared about abortion, I think that Bush will put people on the bench who will be much closer to overturning Roe vs Wade than Reagan ever would."

[Gergen mentioned some initiatives like the ones for AIDS and mentoring.] "But I have to tell you, in the great scope of things, this is not about Compassionate Conservatism, it's about Conservatism - pure and simple."

"Reagan tended to talk right, but tended to govern towards the middle. Bush tends to talk to the middle, but govern right. His actions are far more over to the right. That's why the base of the Republican party is so wildly enthusiastic about George Bush."

"I think he was in sync with the American public on the initial response to terrorism. He is not in sync - in the way Reagan Reagan was - on a wide swath of his policies. ... The fact that we've had so many jobs lost in the country over the last couple of years has not made it easier for him. He passed a massive tax cut plan with the notion that it would help stimulate the economy, and since then the number of jobs has gone down, not up. So when he comes back here and says we need another big tax cut, it's less credible."

"George W. Bush's leadership is much more of a 'trust me' kind of leadership. 'Trust my judgement. Leave it to me. I'll decide this.' And I think he's a big risk taker, and I think we're in a situation with George W. Bush where we all wish him well because it's so important to our country. And, I don't think Bill Clinton would have handled Iraq this way. I don't think we'd be going to war with Iraq. I think we'd be paying much more attention to Al-Qaeda cells elsewhere in the world."

"I'm coming to this view (and I may be wrong) - that increasingly it looks this way to me: That George W. Bush is either going to go down in history as a courageous, far-sighted, Commander in Chief, one who will deserve enormous credit for taking hold of this war on terrorism and winning it in a very decisive way, or he's going to go down in history as someone who pushed us, and was foolhardy, and too headstrong in thrusting us into extensions of this war into the building of a potential American Empire that we will come to regret. ... Our fates are tied with his."
So what was the reference in our title to 55-year-olds? The joke at Davos was that it was full of un-hip older guys. Anyway, European opposition to Bush (which observers like Sen Biden found surprising) was not from the peace-left, but from the capitalist-industrialist-government types found at Davos. Depending on what you read, these fellows are either scared, anxious, or miffed by Bush's foreign policy.    Perhaps Gergen's remarks above represent some of that thinking.

We didn't give you everything that Gergen said, only what we thought were the key points. (And so there's no misunderstanding, it should be noted that Gergen did make some positive comments about Bush.) However, he repeatedly called Bush a risk-taker (e.g. "riverboat gambler") and we couldn't help but wonder if that attitude is the result of Bush thinking that "God is on his side" - because Gergen also went out of his way to comment on Bush's religiosity. That's disturbing because Bush may not correctly assess the probabilities of different outcomes - especially the negative outcomes - believing he will be protected by the Hand of God.

For those who wonder if Bush is really in charge, and therefore if his world-view is anything to worry about, we take the position that while Bush may not come up with risky proposals, he will not exercise proper restraint when the time comes (cf. Kennedy during the Cuban Missle Crisis).

NOTE: The Charlie Rose Show has archives of programs which allow you to listen to the interviews with RealPlayer. However, it takes about one week for a program to be added, and the Gergen interview is not (as of this writing) available. Also, in case you were wondering, the quotes above are direct transcriptions from recorded material.


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