It says something about George W. Bush that when his fellow Republican governors asked him--after only one term in any political office--to run for president, he did not say, "Why me?" This is evidence of either a stunning self-confidence or an equally stunning naivete. With time, it's becoming clear that it's both. Bush has the impregnable confidence of someone who does not know what he does not know.
I am not suggesting the man is a dope. Clearly, he is not--and he has, as he incessantly says, been the governor of Texas, and he was reelected in a landslide. He is right in insisting that a governor has more in common with a president than a senator has--or, for that matter, a magazine publisher who was born to his job. Ronald Reagan taught us that if you can govern a big state, you can probably govern the country. At least Reagan did, and few presidents knew less than he on any given subject.
Reagan comes to mind for a good reason. He used to insist that something was true because it ought to be true, and Bush does something similar. Over and over in debates and in interviews, the Texas governor asserts and, when challenged, reasserts--as if iteration alone proves the proposition. Simply put, Bush will not let us in on his thinking, if any.
For instance, in the most recent GOP debate, Bush was asked what part of his tax plan he would jettison if his predicted budget surpluses failed "in full or in part" to materialize. "I refuse to accept the premise that surpluses are going to decline," he answered. Okay, but what if they did? We were not told--and maybe that's because he does not know.
Similarly, on "Meet The Press," Bush was asked about his advocacy of abstinence--that when it comes to sex, there's a right and there's a wrong and that's about all there is to it.
"Has abstinence worked?" Tim Russert asked him.
"Well, it hadn't been given a very good chance, but it's worked when it's tried," Bush responded. "That's for certain."
Oh yeah, where's the evidence? Where are the hard statistics that show that advocating abstinence--and not teaching birth control and safe sex--prevents pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases? Bush never supplies any.
To a degree, all politicians simply assert one proposition or another--and leave it at that. This is particularly true in intraparty debates in which there is a fair degree of unanimity. But at the level of presidential candidate, most politicians have a record--votes, speeches, life experiences--that reveals how they arrived at their positions and, often, predicts how they will behave in office.
Bush, however, is somewhat of a blank. He has only been the one-term governor of a state with a weak governorship. At that, he has had the good fortune to govern in prosperous times. It's hard to think of a governor who has been a failure of late. Budget surpluses make them all geniuses.
Even on abortion, Bush will not explain why he believes what he does. Gary Bauer, for whom no subject is as important, says life begins at conception--and that's it. No abortion under any circumstances. Bush, too, believes life begins at conception, but he would permit abortion in the event of rape or incest.
"Why the exceptions for rape or incest?" he was asked on "Meet The Press."
"Well, those are extraordinary circumstances. I know there's somewhat of a contradiction there, but, nevertheless, that's the position I've taken."
Yes, but a Tay-Sachs baby who will die very young and in agony is also an extraordinary circumstance. To choose two exceptions and not any other is simply to choose--the very heart of the pro-choice argument. But Bush won't deal with it. His position, as he said, is his position.
These explanations are neither enlightening nor reassuring. They suggest a man with no patience for complexities and the conviction that if the position feels right, then it has to be right. This is why Bush champions faith-based social programs even when, as with the Inner Change prison program, there's no evidence that they work--and plenty of evidence that they represent a harrowing use of state power to promote a single religion.
My mind is not made up on George W. Bush. But I would like to learn more of his thinking and hear fewer sound-bite answers. I would like to know why he believes what he believes--including, if I may be so bold, why he thinks he's ready to be president.