January 31, 2005


Bush Forges Weak Links to Legacies of Democratic Predecessors
(Ronald Brownstein, January 31, 2005, LA Times)

Probably the last Democratic president who held views roughly similar to President Bush's was Grover Cleveland in the late 19th century. Cleveland embodied the resistance to activist government that dominated the Democratic Party through its first century and fuels the GOP today.

But the unlamented Cleveland isn't one of the predecessors Bush and his allies are enlisting to sell his initiatives at home and abroad. Instead, they are trying to link Bush's agenda with Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

In each case, to put it mildly, the connection is a stretch. In fact, in each instance, the Bush team is citing the Democrats to sell policies that reverse the strategies those presidents pursued. It's as if General Motors were using a testimonial from Ralph Nader to sell an updated Corvair.

Bush's allies have routinely described his recent inaugural address as the most idealistic statement of America's commitment to expanding liberty since Wilson's declaration in 1917 that, "The world must be made safe for democracy."

Up to a point the analogy holds. Like Bush, Wilson believed that the spread of democracy would make America more secure. And Wilson, like Bush, considered U.S. influence key to encouraging that spread.

But the differences dwarf the similarities. Wilson wanted the U.S. to help organize the world into a League of Nations that would confront threats as "a community of power." In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has demonstrated that he is more comfortable working virtually alone than accepting restrictions on America's freedom of action.

It goes on like that for awhile, with Mr. Brownstein apparently puzzled that the President learned from his predecessors' most conspicuous failures and is only linking himself to the positive contributions they made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2005 3:03 PM

The Grover Cleveland reference seems just goofy. In America the majority party is always the party of active government . That comes with the terrritory, because the majority of Americans think the government is OURS, and why shouldn't we do cool stuff with it?

Starting about 1860 we had 70 years of Republican government activism, (sometimes in forms we hardly recognize, like high tarrifs.) Then 70 years of Dem activism. Now the Republicans are once again the majority party, and Bush is leading our government in some very popular activism. Just like Lincoln and FDR.

My suspicion is that these leaders don't really decide our course, they just sense a great wave building in the nation, and paddle their surfboards to the right spot to ride it.

Posted by: John Weidner at January 31, 2005 7:58 PM