Friday, December 12, 2008

Presidential Motivations

Last night, I got to sit down and watch The Countdown. I know all the cool kids like Rachel Maddow better, but I love Keith Olbermann. It may have something to do with the fact that they tend to cover the same topics, and Keith is on first and after that first run I get a little bored of the topics they discuss. I was all excited, because it was 8 o'clock, I was home, and no one else was home who had the power to take the remote away from me by virtue of being the person who actually pays the cable bill. And at the end of "Bushed", Keith Olbermann posed this question:
"I'm going to ask you something, and it's going to sound like a joke but I'm serious. In those quiet moments when you contemplate this extraordinary administration - without anger, without bitterness, just with a kind of centered awe - do you ever wonder if Mr. Bush's goal was to become president so he could spend eight years doing as much damage to this country as time and his own energies would allow?"
And to that I say - actually, no. I take a different view, either kinder or even more damning, depending upon one's perspective. 

One thing I flash on whenever Bush does something indescribably indefensible is Roger Mudd's question to Ted Kennedy - that being, "Why do you want to be president?" Kennedy froze, and was unable to give a straightforward answer even though he had a ready-made one in that whole "My brother John was president, and was assassinated before his grand vision could be enacted. My brother Robert was running for president because he saw the continued injustices present in the world, and was assassinated before the primaries were over. I want to carry their vision of a better America to fruition" thing. In those moments when Bush does something incredibly stupid or short sighted, or when his verbal ticks really start to bother me, I wonder what his answer would have been to that question - because I honestly don't think he had any other reason for running for president other than to be president. [As an aside, I give Ted the benefit of the doubt there; I assume he had visions of his brothers, both dead in the course of being or becoming president, and decided that maybe that whole 'president' thing just wasn't for him - and that he would be happier in a crowd of 99 other people.]

I tend to think that in order to even run for president, a person must have either an incredible, indefectible ego - or craves the recognition of the presidency as a way to inflate his ego. I also tend to think that two motivations more than any other come into play, those being believing one can do great and glorious things with the presidency and wanting the grand and glorious stature of the presidency. Generally, there is a grand interplay between the two. John F. Kennedy ran for president because it was his father's dream to see his oldest (living) son to be president. He was a good president because he not only embodied the dreams and visions of America and her citizens in his Camelot White House, but because he had the gravitas necessary to recognize the good he could achieve once he was president. Lincoln seems to encompass much of the first motivation and less of the second, though the second is still present; same thing with George Washington. And being more in tune with the first motivation instead of the second does not ensure a good president; Jimmy Carter is a perfect example of that. As would Herbert Hoover. Being more in tune with the second motivation does not ensure a bad president; Teddy Roosevelt was definitely someone who wanted the stature of the presidency. But what is needed is some sort of underlying understanding of the world no matter which motivation is more present - a philosophical undertaking, and the finesse to bring that philosophy into legislation. It takes intelligence; it takes gravitas; it takes a curiosity, a pragmatism, and an ability to know when to hold 'em and to know when to fold them. And I don't think George Bush really had any of that. The problem with number 43 is that he didn't seek to do damage to the country or the world. It just - in oddly sitcomish fashion - happened that way. 

If he had intended to create half of the chaos he has, then that would be at least something. After all, I don't agree with much of Reagan's philosophy or many of his policies, but I respect that he was a good president because he had that knowledge of when to be pragmatic and when to push for the conservative ideologies he believed in. He was able to enact the change he wanted to see; I don't think George W. Bush can say the same. And that is what made him a particularly bad president.


mikhailbakunin said...

One thing I will say in defense of Bush is tha - at least in the last year of his administration - he has become far more pragmatic and open to compromise. That may be because he's a lame duck, it may be because he's extremely unpopular, it may be because he's concerned about his legacy, but I think it's undeniably true.

When a conservative president is working with the Democratic leadership to bail out failing auto companies (and is getting savaged by conservative pundits), I'd say you have to concede that he's not a total ideologue.

Keith Olbermann, of course, will never concede that because he IS a total ideologue.

petpluto said...

"I'd say you have to concede that he's not a total ideologue."

Part of my issue is that I don't know if he was ever an ideologue. I seriously think that he was so focused upon becoming president that he failed to think about what he really wanted to do once he became president.

mikhailbakunin said...

Yeah, there have always these conflicting stereotypes of Bush - he's either the nefarious super-villain or the bumbling moron; the stern zealot or the calculating pragmatist. I obviously have no idea who the "real" Bush is, but I'd like to think he's a bit smarter and a bit more well-intentioned than most people believe. Then I seem him being interviewed and he's almost like a caricature of himself . . .

mikhailbakunin said...

(Sorry about the typos. I'm trying to type fast so my boss doesn't notice that I'm not actually working.)

petpluto said...

Nope, no typos allowed. Banned!


But in all seriousness, I don't think a guy has to be a moron in order to be completely over his head when it comes to being in the White House. I don't doubt that he wanted to do good once he got there. But I also doubt the presence of an actual philosophy, or any real understanding of what "doing good" entailed, and that simply being the "good guy" didn't make his actions acceptable.

And then there are those interviews, which do leave him looking like not only a caricature of himself but also like a bumbling yokel.