By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Let the word go forth from this time and place that the torch has been passed to an old generation -- my Old Man‘s handlers, tested in the Cold War, tempered in the board rooms, schooled in the oil bidness, steeled on the links and on the yachts . . .”
The Restoration is upon us. The dynasty’s dullard son now rules, to a general, still largely unspoken sense of incredulity. The thought that will not go away, even among Republicans for whom W.‘s legitimacy is not at issue, is: What is he doing there? This is not a feeling that Reagan, for all his intellectual incuriousness, evoked; nor Ford, despite his abrupt emergence; nor Nixon, despite the mistrust he inspired; nor Truman, despite having to succeed the most beloved and seemingly permanent of presidents. You have to go back to Coolidge to find a president with a resume so short, a presence so uninspiring, an intelligence so difficult to locate.
And you have to go back to Ulysses Grant to find another chief executive who, up until a dozen or so years before becoming president, was a substance abuser who’d failed in one business venture after another. Both Grant and Bush went on the wagon, but there the similarities end. In order to become president, Grant turned himself into the military genius who saved the Union. W., on the other hand, had some friends of his pop buy him a baseball team, where he served as amiable front man. In the nationwide Republican landslide of 1994, he was elected governor of Texas, where he served as amiable front man. In the election of 2000, he lost to a stiff by 500,000 votes, but some friends of his pop managed to wangle him just enough electoral votes by getting the count stopped before he could fall behind there, too.
Since that December evening when the Supreme Court made him the president, a number of Bush‘s efforts to reassure a nervous nation have had, perversely, the opposite effect. He’s exhibited a humility at being president that I can only presume is calculated to contrast with what Republicans see as Bill Clinton‘s arrogance. He was, he said, “honored” when foreign heads of state phoned him after his election; “honored” when French President Jacques Chirac personally called on him; “honored,” his first night as president, to have slept in the White House. Bush calls to mind Churchill’s line, when told that a certain person he didn‘t like was nonetheless a modest man, that “he has much to be modest about.” “Honored,” in this context, seems increasingly a synonym for surprised, amazed, overwhelmed -- and unworthy. It’s not an honor for an American president in the year 2001 to be sought out by the heads of other nations; it‘s simply part of the job. If the nation is wondering, What is he doing there?, Bush himself seems to be wondering, What am I doing here? For Clinton, the presidency was the supreme object of his desire; for Bush, it seems more like a chore he’s been unable to duck. Thirty years after he got out of going to Vietnam, the draft has finally caught up with him.
Bush‘s appointments have only intensified the impression of unreadiness, since he’s disproportionately hired his father‘s retainers, veterans of the old Republican wars. His is a stunningly backward-looking cabinet. His national security team tends to see the planet chiefly through a military rather than economic lens. His secretary of state, Colin Powell, invokes Vietnam as a reason to oppose all intervention, though he favors boosting military spending. His defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, seeks to build a Cold War--style missile defense system, though we have no Cold War--style adversary. His most controversial nominees -- Attorney General--designate John Ashcroft and Interior Secretary--designate Gale Norton -- have gone out of their way to identify themselves with the cause of the Confederacy.
The Bush Cabinet is drawn as well from the old economy -- chiefly, the military-industrial complex, the defence bureaucracy and the oil industry, the steel and shmutz sectors. It’s not just that Dick Cheney is from Halliburton and Don Evans is an old Midland driller. Even national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was a corporate director of Chevron. Chief of Staff Andy Card was the leading lobbyist for the auto industry. Treasury Secretary Paul O‘Neill, by all reports a highly capable centrist, headed Alcoa and the board of RAND. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also chaired the RAND board at one time, and was a drug-company CEO. And three Bush Cabinet picks have befriended the tobacco industry at crucial intervals: Health and Human Services Secretary--designate Tommy Thompson took more than $70,000 from Philip Morris and opposed smoking restrictions as governor of Wisconsin; Ashcroft was the only member of the Senate Commerce Committee to oppose a bill curtailing tobacco marketing; and Norton, while Colorado Attorney General, refused until quite late to enter the omnibus suit that states brought against the industry.
It’s a hardware cabinet in a software world. For better and worse, the worlds of finance and culture -- the two sectors of the American economy that have come to dominate the planet over the past decade -- are all but unrepresented in the new administration. In this sense, there‘s a Rip Van Winkle aspect to the Bush people: This is the kind of cabinet you’d pick if you‘d just awakened from a nap that began around 1990. And a napping, we know, is one of the few skills at which our new president excels.
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