Friday, August 24, 2007

Bush as LBJ

In Robert Novak's memoir Prince of Darkness, there's an interesting anecdote from the Johnson administration. Dean Rusk, or one of the higher-ups, has an off-the-record meeting with members of the press, wherein he says some highly impolitic things regarding the Vietnam war. One of the participants, Walter Lippman or some other Establishment luminary, leaks the proceedings to Novak, who promptly publishes a synopsis of them in his column, published in the Washington Post and a thousand other places.

As I read it, I thought of the George W. Bush and his difficulties. We have several plausible foils for him already. There's Clinton, a successful politician for himself but a failure for his party. Truman made hard choices regarding Korea and containment and was very unpopular in his time, but vindicated in history. Wilson made a fetish of democracy and Western ideologies of politics and did his best to export them across the world to the detriment of the U.S. national interest.

But reading Novak's book, there is Bush as Johnson as well, and it goes deeper than Bush:Iraq::Johnson:Vietnam. Johnson entered the White House after dominating the Senate as Majority Leader. W inherited a host of family connections and the associated loyalties as head of the Bush clan. But, what appeared initially as stuctural strengths in fact hid weakness of character.

Both Johnson and Bush fils thought they had it all figured out. They tended to disdain any sort of give-and-take with anybody outside their political in-group. Then, when they wanted to reach outside of it (a la Rusk above) they found out that they couldn't.

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