Bush Fatigue Hits Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, September 22, 2008; 1:34 PM

Does President Bush's support for a radical financial bailout represent a reversal in his political ideology? Not likely.

For one, it seems to be less a reversal than a recusal. Bush appears ideologically spent, rather than transformed. He has for all intents and purposes become the bystander-in-chief, letting others in his administration do the heavy lifting.

Furthermore, the plan concocted by two Bush appointees features some distinctive characteristics of major Bush initiatives past: It would be spectacularly expensive, primarily benefit the very rich, and grant the executive branch unlimited power with no transparency or accountability.

In Saturday's Washington Post, Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen described the bailout proposal as the latest in a series of shifts: "After a first term in which he largely adhered to conservative -- or neoconservative -- principles, Bush has moved away from long-standing positions on a range of foreign and domestic issues. In the final year of his second term, he has reached out diplomatically to North Korea and Iran, engineered a dramatic midcourse correction on the Iraq war and increased the government's role in the daily workings of the economy to a degree that would have seemed unimaginable when he first pursued the nation's highest office."

So how to explain it?

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told The Post: "I believe that the president is exhausted and the vice president has been marginalized, and what you now have is the Washington interests . . . dominating the administration."

Another view is that Bush simply had to accept reality. Abramowitz and Eggen: "Some in both parties considered the administration's moves a welcome abandonment of ideology to cope with a global economic slowdown, instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ongoing war in Iraq and the nuclear ambitions of Iran."

And then there's the argument that it's just more of the same. "Longtime conservative activist Richard A. Viguerie argues that Bush moved away from conservative principles long ago, saying the president did not fight hard enough to limit the growth of government and defend conservative social positions, such as opposition to same-sex marriage. 'He did betray us, just like his father did,' said Viguerie, who has written a book that sharply criticizes the current president's tenure. 'He promised he would govern like a conservative, and it just hasn't been the case.'"

Abramowitz and Eggen called attention to the post-2006-election "overhaul of personnel at key Cabinet agencies, particularly State, Defense and the Treasury, where secretaries pursued -- or were allowed to pursue -- much more pragmatic policies than their predecessors."

But, as they noted, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley on Friday took issue with the notion of reversal: "I see a lot more continuity, certainly in terms of who this President is, what he stands for, what his values and principles are," Hadley said. "I mean, I think you've heard him, you've been listening to his speeches over the last eight years. This is a man who is remarkably unaffected by eight years as President, in terms of who he is, what he stands for, how he thinks of himself."

Bush's Words

The president finally took his first two questions about the exploding financial crisis on Saturday, in a joint appearance with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe: "I know -- look, I'm sure there are some of my friends out there saying, I thought this guy was a market guy; what happened to him?

"Well, my first instinct wasn't to lay out a huge government plan. My first instinct was to let the market work until I realized, upon being briefed by the experts, of how significant this problem became.

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