Thursday, February 15, 2007

20 - Answers (Part 2)

What follows are very long answers to the final two questions from the last installment of "Ask Mitssob".

Q: Bill Jeffers - Do you seriously think George Bush II was good for this country???
A: Before I actually answer your question, I’d like to discuss the wording of the question itself. Simply reading your question aloud leads me to think that you already know the answer, and that nothing I say is going to convince you one way or another. But I know you, Bill, and I know that you’re a reasonable man (and no, I don’t mean to patronize you). I’ll do my best to convince you that my answer is correct.

Your choice to call President Bush “George Bush II” gives me the chance to discuss something that has been bothering me since the 2000 Presidential campaign. The current President of the United States is named George Walker Bush. He is not “George Bush II”, nor is he “George Bush Jr.” I realize that it seems like a minor thing, but I think it’s important.

In order to properly answer this question I will look at the President’s performance in regards to three large areas that all Presidents must deal with: economics, judges, and national security. I’ll discuss what he has done, and lay it against what I think of his actions. In this way I should be able to come to an answer to your question. Let me preface this by saying that my analysis is by no means complete. There are other areas that Presidents must deal with, and if you’d like me to comment on these, then feel free to ask. I could obviously spend more time on this, but I think I’ve come to a good answer.

First up is economics. While the ultimate responsibility for setting tax rates and budgets belongs to the Congress, the President submits economic proposals for consideration. The economic health of the United States is generally considered to be a good barometer of the performance of a President, and thus I think it’s a good measure of how good a President has been for this country.

So how has the US fared economically during the Bush administration? During the campaign of 2000 the economy was heading into a recession. I specifically remember then-candidate Bush bringing that fact up several times, only to be laughed at and dismissed as trying to talk down the Clinton administration. When President Bush took office in January of 2001, the economy had entered a recession, exactly as he had predicted. The stock market “bubble” had burst, and projected budget surpluses had become actual budget deficits. In short, things were on the decline. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the economy took another major shock. Unemployment climbed, the stock market continued down.

As is usually the case with matters of economics, the current President gets blame (or credit, as the case may be) for the economy that their predecessor leaves behind. In this case, President Bush was immediately tagged with the recession. In the months following 9/11, the President implemented a strategy to reverse the recession. That strategy worked. Therefore, credit for the economic recovery that followed the recession belongs to President Bush. Let me repeat that: President Bush is in large measure responsible for the healthy and strong economy that exists today. He lowered tax rates for all Americans, which put more money into the economy as a whole. He cut capital gains taxes which encouraged investment. The investment led to jobs, which led to lower unemployment, which led to more people making more money. It also led to a surge in the stock markets in America, which created more wealth both for corporations and individuals. In fact, the only area I wish that the President had done a better job with was putting pressure on Congress to lower spending by the federal government.

If you don’t believe me, or think that I’m painting a rosy picture, then ask yourself this: economically, how are you doing? Do you have a job? Does it pay well? Do you own a house? If so, what interest rate are you paying? How are your friends doing? Do they have jobs? Do they own houses? If the economy were doing poorly, would you be able to answer those questions the same way? I didn’t think so. Speaking for myself, economically I’m doing fine. Quite well, in fact. Therefore, I think that President Bush has been very good for this country economically.

Next, let me talk for a brief moment about the judicial branch. One of the ways that a President can leave his mark on the country is in the area of judicial nominations, both to federal courts and to the Supreme Court. I personally think that President Bush has been good for the country in this area. He has nominated highly qualified judges to the federal bench, and his two nominees to the Supreme Court were both excellent men. What I like about his nominees is that they believe that the role of a judge is as an interpreter of laws, not the creator of laws. I share this belief, which is why I think the President has been good for the country in this area.

Finally, let me cover the very broad area of national security. This is the primary purpose of the President of the United States. According to the Constitution, the President is the Commander in Chief of all armed forces of the United States. What he says, goes.

On September 11th, 2001, the United States of America was the victim of a terrorist attack. Does President Bush deserve some blame for not preventing this attack? Absolutely. Excuses can be made, of course. He had only been in office for nine months at the time of the attacks. Given the nature of governmental bureaucracy, any policy changes he might have desired did not have time to be implemented. However, there were indications that an attack was coming, and those indications were not handled properly. The President, as I said before, is the Commander in Chief. The buck stops with him.

In response to the attacks of 9/11, President Bush openly declared war on terrorism. He launched a military campaign to oust some of the organizational structure behind the attacks from the nation of Afghanistan. Was this specific action good for our country? Honestly, I don’t think so. Do I think that 9/11 merited a response? Absolutely. But what that response should have been I am not sure. Do I fault the President for his actions in this area? No, not really. He was under pressure to do something, and overthrowing the Taliban was certainly not the worst thing he could have done. Doing nothing would have been the worst thing. The President understood that, and so he plotted a course of action and followed it. The fact that he did something was good for the country, though again, I would probably have chosen a different course.

Then in April of 2002 the buildup to the eventual War in Iraq began. To set the stage, I’m going to make a number of assertions. If you doubt these, then look them up yourself. I don’t have the time or the patience for an argument.

- Iraq was in violation of 14 separate UN Resolutions in April of 2003.
- The war that had been declared against Iraq in 1991 had never legally ended. Sadaam Hussein was in violation of the cease-fire that had been established with the United States by firing at American military planes flying patrols in the no-fly zone over central Iraq.
- There were stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction” (consisting primarily of chemical weapons) in Iraq. Those weapons were moved from Iraq to Syria during the year long buildup to the war between April of 2002 and April of 2003.
- There were functional ties between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda (the group behind 9/11). By “functional ties” I do not mean “Iraq was responsible for 9/11”. And by the way, I find it insulting that I even had to type that previous sentence.
- Iraq provided material support to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

In April of 2003 the invasion of Iraq began, concluding a few weeks later with the capture of the capital of Baghdad. In the three and a half years that followed, the United States has been fighting to give the Iraqi people a chance to govern themselves. This has resulted in the deaths of over 3000 American servicemen, and the deaths of tens of thousands of terrorists.

So has this been good for the country? That’s hard to say. I think that the end result of the war (a stable and democratic Iraq) will be good for the country. However, the public face of that war is most certainly not good for this country. The terrorists know this, which is why they continue to stage attacks in Iraq. I use the word "stage" very carefully. They know that by showing American citizens death, American citizens will eventually become tired of it and demand an end to it. It is happening now, and it is definitely not good for the country. So my final verdict on national security is that the President has not been good for the country. I believe that his heart is in the right place, but his actions have not played out in the ways that I would have liked.

I can think of one additional way that President Bush has been “bad” for the country, though I cannot blame him for it. The level of discourse in America has been reduced substantially since President Bush’s election in 2000. In fact, the election itself became the catalyst for this. There are people to this day who fervently believe that the election was stolen, that President Bush is not the properly elected President of the United States of America. To those people I can only say that I’m sorry you believe that, and I wish you all the best, but I can’t talk to you. I just can’t. You believe something that simply isn’t true, and because it is a belief I can’t convince you otherwise.

And this is my point. Much of the hatred of the President is something that cannot be reasoned with, cannot be rationalized, and cannot be truly countered. People just hate the man. Not just his policies, not just the actions he has taken as President. They hate the man himself. I find this sad. Really. Again, is this the President’s fault? No, I don’t think so. But it hasn’t been good for the country, and I’d be foolish to ignore it.

So what’s the final answer? According to my own scorecard, I think that there is no doubt that President Bush has been good for this country. No doubt at all. People who think otherwise are welcome to their opinions, of course. But that’s my answer. Thanks for the question, Bill. I enjoyed this exercise quite a bit.

Q: Jennifer Walden - Which is more difficult? Admitting you have a problem, or doing something about it?
A: Speaking only for myself, I have always found it easier to admit that I have a problem than to do something about it. To be more specific, I find it easier to admit that there IS a problem. My outward hyperactivity notwithstanding, at my core I am a very shy person. I tend to be fairly passive when it comes to most situations. Therefore, I find it pretty easy to recognize problems, but much harder to break the status quo and do something about them. I'm the kind of person who likes to leave well enough alone, and one for whom if a problem isn't beating me upside the head, I tend to just let it slide.

One area where this question is relevant is the field of addiction. The only addiction I have at present is to caffeine. I have been hooked since the summer of 2001. I am a typical addict, in that I know that I can quit (and tell myself that I can quit any time), but don't for a variety of reasons. I'm atypical in that I know that I have a problem, but choose not to do anything about it. I do this because as addictions go, caffeine is a mild one. Physiologically, I know that if I were to quit my body would protest, but I'd eventually get through it with little difficulty.

Speaking more philosophically, knowledge of one’s self is something that many people have a problem with. It’s hard to look into the mirror, ask yourself if something is wrong, and get an honest answer. I have encountered this in my own life, as I'm sure everyone has. Sometimes it is only through the eyes of other people can we truly see ourselves. This is the purpose of things like interventions. Friends and loved ones gather around an addict and force them to confront their problem. In cases such as these, I would argue that doing something is easier than admitting the problem.

So in the end it comes down to the person. What kind of person are you? Ask yourself this question. I think you'll be surprised by the way that your mind wraps itself around it.