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January 20, 2009



Well, you don't want to imitate the people who hated Bush from the get go and wouldn't give him a chance. I admit that it was tacky to critize Bush so pointedly with him sitting right there. I've also thought all along that the speeches everyone was so gaga over were kind of sophomoric. Change is not exactly an original mantra. But Obama will quickly find out--already has--how much harder it is to run the country than to campaign, especially when the press hangs on your every word. Ceremonial occasions are, after all, usually about vague and high-sounding rhetoric, so it's probably best to save serious criticism for what he actually does! We can hope that the economic crisis will force him to be serious about taking on entitlements. At any rate, the upside of his failures for Bush fans might be vindication of the guy who skipped the festivities for a Texas ranch yesterday.

Nathan Smith

Oh, I'm pretty hard on new presidents. Generally, I think running for president is a pretty arrogant thing to do. To think one is capable of *that* job, to think one is the best person for it, is almost always a sign that one has recklessly overestimated oneself. Since, in addition, one generally has to pander, compromise, obfuscate in all sorts of shameless ways in order to get to the White House, I generally regard getting oneself elected president as a sort of shameful and dishonorable act and think less of those who do it. I felt the same way about Bush. John McCain would have been the one exception to the rule, since, in spite of his remarkable and persistent personal humility, since he really was, by a wide margin, the best person in the country for the job, and even if, as a humble person should, he tried to adopt a bias in his own disfavor, that truth was just too plain for a man as wise as McCain to miss it. Moreover, he didn't compromise during the campaign by running to the center, but stood by a conservative philosophy which was what he believed, and which-- there is probably no other politician in America for whom these things so closely coincide-- was also the right thing for the country. As far as I can tell, he's almost the only presidential candidate in living memory (I don't know enough about Reagan to judge, though) of whom this can be said, and the fact that he lost is sort of indicative of why. The good guys, it seems, just don't climb to the top of the greasy pole.

I think Obama has behaved as a cad and a fool in the past year and I don't think there's any harm in ridiculing him, but on the contrary, it's healthy, even urgent to deflate the cult of personality which can only further impair his already poor judgment. My opinion of Bush in 2000 was not as low, but I didn't like him much then either. However, I'm sometimes more generous to politicians who have been in office for a while. Just as a person who contracts an irresponsible and ill-advised marriage might, through striving to understand and fulfill the responsibilities rashly undertaken, become a wiser and better person and redeem him- or herself and make the marriage happy and fruitful, so Bush grew into the responsibilities of his office, and prodding a reluctant country onto a better course, at least for a time, than the one on which it wished to go. Blair was similarly changed for the better by the responsibilities of office. I may be a biting critic now, but if Obama, matured by an appreciation of the gravity of his office, does the right things, I may become an Obama loyalist just as the rest of the world is turning on him.

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