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 The End of Bush the Bold 

December 31, 2002

To read the conservative and neoconservative press, you’d think that President George W. Bush combined the military genius of Napoleon, the courage of Coriolanus, and the moral wisdom of Confucius. My own view is that he confirms the truth of the adage “Never send a boy to do a man’s job.”

Actually, the presidency is more a Superman’s job. Nobody should be given — or trusted with — that much power and responsibility. Nobody can possibly handle it.

By abandoning our Constitution, in which the legislative branch is supreme, we have permitted the executive branch to assume a centrality it was never meant to have. The president is now said to be our “leader.” He’s expected to provide governance, protection, economic expertise, geopolitical cunning, and inspiration, among other things; and of course he also has to have a talent for raising money and winning elections.

Rare is the man who can master even one of these disparate, unrelated, almost miscellaneous skills. Requiring all of them is like asking a single individual to excel at playing the harpsichord, logical theory, standup comedy, chess, and pole-vaulting.

In these terms, nobody can be a good president. He can only play one on TV. Reagan was superb at this impersonation; Bill Clinton might have been just as good, if only he hadn’t set an unhappy precedent by splashing his personal foibles onto the front pages.

But Bush? For most of his first year in the Oval Office he gave us the impression he was lost in the job. After the 9/11 attacks, however, he seemed to achieve a new stature. Maybe we were right the first time.

[Breaker quote: Why publish your hit list?]In the wake of the attacks, Bush adopted the posture of Gary Cooper in High Noon. He played a resolute hero who knew what he was doing. It flew with the public and most of the pundits; even his liberal critics were impressed. But he quickly diverted from a “war on terrorism” to an irrelevant war on Iraq.

He sealed his obsession with Iraq by naming it one of the three points on an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and North Korea. He said Iraq posed an urgent danger because it was ruled by a cruel tyrant bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and threatening the whole region, if not the whole world.

Well, someone answering this lurid description has now stepped forward, and it isn’t Saddam Hussein. It’s North Korea’s Kim Jong Il.

Kim has nukes, and he’s not hiding it. He’s bragging about it. He dares Bush to stop him. He passes the “cruel tyrant” test with flying colors. He’s a Communist of the Stalin-Mao ilk, permitting mass starvation in his country rather than relaxing his iron grip. He seems quite cheerfully willing to go to war with his neighbors. And this is to say nothing of his funny teeth and haircut: he even looks eerie.

How cruel is he? Well, desperate North Koreans are actually risking their sorry lives to flee to China, making China the first Communist country ever to have an illegal-immigrant problem. The North Korean media call Kim “the Dear Leader.”

So how is Bush handling this certified monster? Very awkwardly. In amusing contrast to his tough talk about prostrate Iraq, Bush is treating North Korea as a diplomatic problem, nothing urgent. What about those weapons of mass destruction? Surely we can resolve our little differences like gentlemen. What about the “axis of evil”? Just a figure of speech, it seems. No hard feelings.

Kim seems to feel differently. He may be crazy, but he’s not stupid. When he heard Bush speak of that “axis of evil,” he heard “hit list,” and he figured North Korea’s turn might be coming when Bush was finished with the Middle East.

So Kim decided to upset Bush’s schedule by shaking nukes in his face before he was ready. Why wait for war at Bush’s convenience? Why not challenge him preemptively, as it were? Sure enough, Bush, the brave cowboy, backed off fast. He realized he wasn’t dealing with a mere Saddam Hussein.

So much for Bush the Bold. Yes, the presidency is too big a job for any man, but Bush, it’s now clear, is far, far out of his depth. Publishing his hit list was an act of the most puerile bravado.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

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