Shorter Dionne and Woodward

Both the New Republic and the Washington Post have published pieces recently that attempt to glean lessons for Obama from the failures of the Bush presidency. Neither makes the latter look good.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. offers this:

A hyper-partisan domestic politics of us versus them followed naturally from the president's instinct to confuse moral certainty for moral clarity. In his farewell address, he reminded his listeners yet again that "good and evil are present in this world, and between the two, there can be no compromise."

Yes, but the hardest moral decisions are usually not between good and evil but between competing goods (security versus liberty) or lesser evils (a draining war in Iraq versus a messy, long-term strategy to contain Saddam Hussein).

Bob Woodward shares ten lessons from the Bush years, gleaned from his lengthy observations:

Bush sometimes assumed that he knew his aides' private views without asking them one-on-one. He made probably the most important decision of his presidency -- whether to invade Iraq -- without directly asking either Powell, Rumsfeld or Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet for their bottom-line recommendations. (Instead of consulting his own father, former president George H.W. Bush, who had gone to war in 1991 to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, the younger Bush told me that he had appealed to a "higher father" for strength.)


During a December 2003 interview with Bush, I read him a quote from his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, about the experience of receiving letters from family members of slain soldiers who had written that they hated him. "And don't believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that, they don't suffer any doubt," Blair had said.

"Yeah," Bush replied. "I haven't suffered doubt."

"Is that right?" I asked. "Not at all?"

"No," he said.

What say we boil all this down? Barack, don't be an idiot. Our last president was an idiot. A patently unapologetic, swaggering idiot. He viewed himself as some kind of divinely-sanctioned warrior king instead of the elected leader of a free people, and seemed oblivious to the fact that he barely "won" and retained the White House after two very close elections. He saw a mandate where there was none, and couldn't be bothered with trivial details like listening to facts or seeking opinions different from his own. He was a failure because he was intellectually and morally lazy, while simultaneously congratulating himself for being just the opposite.

We expect better. We demand better. And when the gauzy good feelings have passed (and already I am disappointed by you), our expectations will endure. Don't screw this up.

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