I have met Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief electoral strategist, on two occasions. The first time we met came at the Republican National Convention, when he briefed the bloggers on the first day, talking about campaign strategies and how the GOP would eventually prevail over John Kerry. After that, we met briefly during the Alito hearings, when the Senate Republican Caucus invited bloggers to cover that from within the Hart building. He has always struck me as a straight shooter and a reasonable man, someone whose loyalty to the Bush administration rested on rational rather than emotional bases.
For that reason, the New York Times article on his disaffection both surprised and disappointed me (via TMV):
A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.
Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.
In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.
He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.
“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”
The man whom I believed so rational turns out to have run on emotion. He talks about how he “fell in love” and then got disappointed when Bush as President didn’t meet his emotional needs. A large part of his dissatisfaction came from the Iraq War, which he had no trouble backing until his son went off to it, and from Bush’s refusal to see Cindy Sheehan, even though Bush met with her once before and she had used that to start a tour of radical-left speeches around the country. Dowd also felt betrayed because Bush had not acted like the uniter he was when he governed in Texas.
As much as I like Dowd, and he is a very likable man in person … boo hoo. I can’t believe this Dowd is a grown-up. I think there are plenty of issues on which one can disagree with the Bush administration, but don’t blame the Bush administration for sticking to policies that one has spent most of his term supporting. Bush hasn’t changed direction during his terms in office, and as close as Dowd was to Bush, it’s not like he didn’t understand who Bush is.
So Bush didn’t act as a uniter. Neither did the Democrats, who spent most of the first term calling Bush the “Commander-in-Thief”, constantly undermining his authority. Bush, one should recall, tried reaching across the aisle on legislation like No Child Left Behind and expanded discretionary spending on a wide scale, attempting to find common ground with the Democrats. Bush used the same intelligence that Democrats had used for years to call Saddam Hussein and Iraq a threat to our national security and both sides using that intel, developed mainly by the Clinton administration and other Western agencies, to authorize the war. When it turned out to be faulty on WMD, Democrats wasted no time calling Bush a liar who misled them into war, despite their own rhetoric on WMD going back to 1998.
Under those circumstances, no one could act as a uniter, and Dowd should understand that more than anyone.
“That it’s not the same, it’s not the person I thought.” Perhaps, but not meeting with Cindy Sheehan — the event which produced this lament — has to be the lamest reason for coming to that conclusion. Bush had already met with Sheehan, a point that Dowd never manages to mention in this interview. She came to Crawford seeking attention and credibility as an anti-war activist. Bush wasn’t obligated to give it to her, and subsequent events bore him out. Shortly afterwards, John McCain met with Sheehan in an attempt to tweak the White House, and Sheehan returned the hospitality by pronouncing him a “warmonger” in a press conference immediately afterwards. After that, she began her political love affair with Hugo Chavez.
Did Dowd seriously believe that Bush should have enabled that kind of nuttiness? If so, he’s not as smart as I thought.
The Times article has more, including Dowd’s disappointment that Bush didn’t fire Rumsfeld in January 2004 after Abu Ghraib. Plenty of people thought Rumsfeld should have stepped down then, but can come up with no rational reason. The Army had already begun its investigation into the incident long before Time Magazine reported it, and had started the disciplinary process. Rumsfeld didn’t order the torture, and the unit commanders who allowed the slack discipline that created the problem got cashiered. George Marshall didn’t step down during World War II when American war crimes came to light, and for good reason: he didn’t authorize them and had no reason to quit over them. The perpetrators got their just punishments, and the war continued under his management.
Dowd engages in one long, petulant rant, consumed by his disappointment at Bush’s failure to change when Dowd changed. I’m sorry for Dowd’s disappointment, but this says much more about Dowd’s emotionalism than it does about the Bush administration.
Dafydd ab Hugh has more thoughts.