LORD KNOWS I have my problems with President Bush. He taps the federal coffers like a monkey smacking the bar for another cocaine pellet in an addiction study. Some of his sentences give me the same sensation as falling backward in one of those "trust" exercises, in which you just have to hope things work out. Yes, the Iraq invasion has gone badly, and to deny this is to suggest that Bush meant for things to turn out this way, which is even crueler than saying he failed to get it right.
But you know what? It's time to cut the guy some slack.
Of course, I will get hippo-choking amounts of e-mail from Bush-haters telling me that all I ever do is cut Bush slack. But these folks grade on the curve. By their standards, anything short of demanding that a live, half-starved badger be sewn into his belly flunks.
Besides, the Bush-bashers have lost credibility. The most delicious example came this week when it was finally revealed that Colin Powell's oak-necked major-domo Richard Armitage — and not some star chamber neocon — "outed" Valerie Plame, the spousal prop of Washington's biggest ham, Joe Wilson. Now it turns out that instead of "Bush blows CIA agent's cover to silence a brave dissenter" — as Wilson practices saying into the mirror every morning — the story is, "One Bush enemy inadvertently taken out by another's friendly fire."
And then there's Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the federal government could have responded better. And of course there were real tragedies involved in that disaster. But you know what? Bad stuff happens during disasters, which is why we don't call them tickle-parties.
The anti-Bush chorus, including enormous segments of the mainstream media, see Katrina as nothing more than a good stick for beating on piñata Bush's "competence." The hypocrisy is astounding because the media did such an abysmal job covering the reality of New Orleans (contrary to their reports, there were no bands of rapists, no disproportionate deaths of poor blacks, nothing close to 10,000 dead, etc.). It seems indisputable that Katrina highlighted the tragedy of New Orleans rather than create it. Long before Katrina, New Orleans was a dysfunctional city in a state with famously corrupt and incompetent leadership, many of whose residents think that it is the job of the federal government to make everyone whole.
The Mississippi coast was hit harder by Katrina than New Orleans was. And although New Orleans' levee failure was a unique problem — one the local leadership ignored for decades — the devastation in Mississippi was in many respects more severe. And you know what? Mississippi has the same federal government as Louisiana, and reconstruction there is going gangbusters while, after more than $120 billion in federal spending, New Orleans remains a basket case. Here's a wacky idea: Maybe it's not all Bush's fault.
Then, of course, there's the war on terror. Democrats love to note that Bush hasn't caught Osama bin Laden yet, as if this is the most vital metric for success. Yes, it'd be nice to catch Bin Laden — no doubt Ramsey Clark, the top legal gun for both LBJ and Saddam Hussein, will be looking for a new client soon. But even nicer than catching Bin Laden is not having thousands of dead Americans in New York, Washington and L.A. Contrary to all expert predictions, there hasn't been a successful attack on the homeland since 9/11. Indeed, the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly contains a (typically) long, exhaustively reported cover story by James Fallows about how the U.S. is in fact winning the war on terror, thanks largely to Bush's policies (though Fallows works hard not to credit Bush).
Political dissatisfaction with the president rests entirely on Iraq and overall Bush fatigue. The rest amounts to little more than Iraq-motivated brickbats gussied up to look like free-standing complaints. That's how hate works: It looks for more excuses to hate in the same way that fire looks for more stuff to burn.
That's why Bush's Democratic critics flit about like bilious butterflies, exploiting each superficial or transient problem just long enough to score some points in the polls and then moving on. Bush's Medicare plan was an egregious corporate giveaway, they cried, until seniors overwhelmingly reported that they like it. And the Patriot Act? Can anyone even remember what the Democrats were whining about? I think it had something to do with libraries that were never searched.
Look, things could obviously be a lot better. But they could be a lot worse too. John Kerry could be president.