It’s common knowledge that President Bush’s approval ratings still hover somewhere in the 30th percentile, where they’ve lingered for the last two years, with only short forays into the 40s.
One would think this proves that Bush is a lousy leader. But then again, leadership is not synonymous with popularity. although there can certainly be overlap.
Whatever leadership Bush may or may not exhibit, it is agreed that he is extremely flawed in the all-important matter of communicating with the public. It’s also common knowledge that many people think of Bush as dumb, and almost all agree he is inarticulate.
But glibness and intelligence are not synonymous either—although, once again, there is often overlap. The idea of Bush as stupid extends to the notion that he is some sort of puppet of handlers such as Rove or Cheney, who are the evil intelligences behind the moronic Bush.
The idea that Bush could actually study an issue in depth and make a courageous and informed decision is laughable to people who ascribe to these latter notions, and I doubt anything they could read or learn about Bush would change that opinion. But I nevertheless suggest that everyone—both Bush supporters and Bush opponents—read two recent eye-opening articles about Bush’s management and leadership style and the ways in which he comes to conclusions and sets policy on tough issues.
The first is Fred Barnes’ longish piece that appeared in the Weekly Standard, describing how Bush made the decision to change policy in Iraq and implement the surge. The second, written by attorney and Bush adviser Jay Lefkowitz, appeared in Commentary and is about Bush’s policy on stem cell research.
In both pieces Bush demonstrates what I can only refer to as keen intelligence, attention to detail, and the ability to process information and listen to the views of others, as well as an impressive courage in making unpopular decisions that are grounded in that research and exhibit both thoughtfulness and ethical depth. Not a bad showing for a dummy.
Both articles also describe how much in control Bush was of the process, to an extent to which I had previously been unaware.
I had previously assumed, for example, that the surge decision had been heavily supported by most of his advisers and especially the military brass. But in fact there was a great deal of dissension about it. Although Cheney, some generals, and particularly John McCain (whose role was even greater than I’d previously known) were strongly in support, in the end Bush’s decision was a lonely and largely unpopular one.
The 20-minute speech on January 10, 2007 [announcing the surge], was not Bush’s most eloquent. And it wasn’t greeted with applause. Democrats condemned the surge and Republicans were mostly silent. Polls showing strong public opposition to the war in Iraq were unaffected.
But the president, as best I could tell, wasn’t looking for affirmation. He was focused solely on victory in Iraq. The surge may achieve that. And if it does, Bush’s decision to spurn public opinion and the pressure of politics and intensify the war in Iraq will surely be regarded as the greatest of his presidency.
Lefkowitz, writing about an entirely different matter, describes something very similar:
Now that the debate seems to be over, what can we say about Bush’s [stem cell] policy and the long months it took for him to devise it? I think it is fair to look upon it as a model of how to deal with the complicated scientific and ethical dilemmas that will continue to confront political leaders in the age of biotechnology. Bush refused to accept the notion that we must choose between medical research and the principle of the dignity of life at every stage. He sought both to advance biomedical science and at the same time to respect the sanctity of human life. In the end he came to a moderate, balanced decision that drew a prudent and principled line. The decision was both informed and reasoned, based on lengthy study and consultation with people of widely divergent viewpoints. It was consciously not guided by public-opinion polls.
That may not be popularity. But it is leadership.