Ringside Seat: Bush League

"In the end," George W. Bush said in his speech at the opening of his presidential library today, "leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom." We don't mean to begrudge Bush his special day, but that's not just poppycock, it shows that he really has learned nothing since he left office. Unless, of course, he's happy with the conclusion of history on his presidency being, "George W. Bush: He meant well."

Given the alternatives, he might be quite happy with that. The trouble is, presidents aren't defined by their convictions, they're defined by what they do. During his tenure, Bush was positively brimming with convictions, all born from his "gut," where he sought counsel whenever an important decision loomed. His conviction was that the Iraq War would turn out great. His conviction was that installing a policy of torturing prisoners would not only keep Americans safe, it would be morally defensible if we just called it by a different name. His conviction was that giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy would bring prosperity to everyone. He was wrong about all of it.

When he was president, Bush would often respond to criticism of his actions and decisions by talking about the good intentions lying within his heart. It wasn't convincing then, and it isn't now. "When future generations come to this library and study this administration," he said today, "they're gonna find out that we stayed true to our convictions." We suppose so. But that will never be enough.

So They Say

"Most of the people in West know everybody in West. Many of you are probably descended from those first settlers—hardy immigrants who crossed an ocean and kept on going. So for you, there’s no such thing as a stranger. When someone is in need, you reach out to them and you support them, and you do what it takes to help them carry on. That’s what happened last Wednesday, when a fire alarm sounded across a quiet Texas evening. As we’ve heard, the call went out to volunteers—not professionals—people who just love to serve. People who want to help their neighbors. A call went out to farmers and car salesmen; and welders and funeral home directors; the city secretary and the mayor. It went out to folks who are tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and then be ready for more. And together, you answered the call. ... And when you got to the scene, you forgot fear and you fought that blaze as hard as you could, knowing the danger, buying time so others could escape. And then, about 20 minutes after the first alarm, the earth shook, and the sky went dark—and West changed forever."

President Barack Obama, at a memorial service in Waco, Texas, today


Daily Meme: Mess in the Middle East

  • The default descriptor for the political climate in Middle East has been "tensions are rising" for a long time. Developments from this week make the tired phrase seem more apt than usual. 
  • For one thing, the United States is growing more certain that the Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons against opposition groups after several people tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.
  • And now the question on everyone's mind is, are we going to intervene now?
  • The Obama administration is treading carefully. One anonymous source said, "Don't take from this that this is an automatic trigger. We have seen very bad movies before when intelligence is perceived to have driven policy decisions that, in the cold light of day, have been proven wrong." Daily Intel translates: "By bad movies, he means Iraq."
  • Secretary Hagel agrees: “This is serious business—we need all the facts." 
  • Syria's not alone in a region full of turmoil. As David Rothkopf puts it, "It is by no means a certainty, but one possibility is that we go from having been concerned about failed states to having to grapple with the harsh realities of a failed region."
  • In Iraq, escalating death counts are prompting fears of a new sectarian war.
  • Meanwhile, Russia, the U.S., Egypt, and the Arab League are trying to remove one precarious unknown from the equation—nuclear weapons.
  • In Afghanistan, the problems that face Afghan troops as they plan to take over the country's security are impossible to ignore, especially after a bruising battle that lasted the entire month of March.
  • Sigh. Not uplifting news. At least they have Bagram Batman.


What We're Writing

  • Jamilah King reports that stop-and-frisk has evolved into the Jim Crow of NYC, making the city unendingly hostile to its black and Latino populations. Luckily though, the next election might put a stop to the practice.
  • Monica Potts examines how austerity has affected childcare (hint: it's not comforting news).


What We're Reading

  • The George W. Bush Presidential Library opened today! To get ready for the occasion, Obama has been endeavoring to make himself more ideologically akin to the second Bush than the senator he used to be.
  • One surprising feature of the library? More than 200 million of the administration's emails will be available for perusing—after the staff vets every single one.
  • In honor of the event, MoJo put together a list of things you won'see at the library. Included? Dubya's pre-invasion plans for post-war Iraq.
  • Dubya thinks his brother should run in 2016, but Barbara Bush says that Jeb should stay out because "we've had enough Bushes." Do you think?
  • Lutz lookalike Frank Luntz, the GOP's hired wordsmith, was caught on camera telling a group of students that Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing radio jocks are "problematic" for the party. Heresy!
  • Someone has finally taken note of the plethora of inconsistencies in the police reports following the outing, killing, and capturing of the Tsarnaev brothers.


Poll of the Day

Presidents may not always be absolved by history but, says Gallup, they usually do get a ratings boost. Of the eight presidents before George W., only two don't see higher ratings today than their terms' averaged—Johnson and Nixon, who have suffered by 13 and 16 points, respectively (probably thanks to Vietnam and Watergate, respectively). Bush 43, however, is down two points from his average at 47 percent. Still, that's 13 points higher than his rating on leaving office.