A Washington tell-all book is seldom a good place to look for political wisdom. But, whether he meant to or not, former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer’s new book, “Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor,” makes at least one important point: politics should be about ideas, not personalities.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case recently. Conservatives coined a term, Bush Derangement Syndrome, to explain the fierce opposition many liberals had to George W. Bush personally. It wasn’t simply his policies they opposed, it was him.
They hated the way he walked, the way he talked. He exhibited “faux cowboy swagger and mangled prose,” wrote commentator Leonard Doyle in Britain’s The Independent. “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it,” wrote Jonathan Chait in The New Republic in 2003. There was a book and a movie (not based on the book) about assassinating Bush.
Here’s the big problem, though. Liberals also managed to paint Bush as the face of conservatism, when in fact he was the face of the Republican Party. There’s a big difference.
Latimer seems to slip into the same trap, taking pointless swipes at Bush advisors including Ed Gillespie, John Bolton and, prominently, Karl Rove. “His operation went on a power trip -- and was ineffective at advancing conservative ideals,” Latimer wrote in a Sept. 20 Washington Post op-ed to promote his book “After Rove took over policy chores, the administration passed no significant conservative legislation through a Republican Congress.”
That’s correct, but misunderstands why Rove failed. It wasn’t a lack of intelligence. It was because he was attempting the impossible: Build a permanent (Republican) governing coalition.
On issue after issue during the Bush administration (Medicare part D, earmarks) Republicans moved to the center or the left. Too many abandoned their conservative principles and embraced big government, hoping that would keep them in office forever. Small wonder voters disposed of so many GOP incumbents in recent elections.
Of course, it’s now liberals who seem to think they’ll be in power forever. Although, of course, they won’t.
“A few months ago, it seemed as though the GOP had been decimated by an ascendant President Obama,” as Latimer writes. “It appears, for the moment, that Republicans have a new opening. And critical to Republicans’ efforts to reintroduce themselves to the American people is a clear discussion of what became of the conservative movement over the past eight years.”