WASHINGTON -- The stature and repute of our public figures are shaped, as I have written before, by this thing called Kultursmog . It is our political culture, a kultur utterly polluted by politics, left-liberal politics. For instance, it renders the Clintons, as reporter John F. Harris hymned in a recent hagiography, "the two most important political figures of their generation." It matters not that they are also the most scandal-prone couple in American history or that also numbered among the political figures of their generation is Newt Gingrich, the wizard behind the "Contract With America," which denied Democrats joint control of the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in 40 years. And forget not that President George W. Bush, who also is from their generation, won two presidential terms and, after 9/11 completely revised American strategic thinking, introduced pre-emption to replace whatever was left of containment. Then, too, the 43rd president has -- facts are facts -- led America through the third-longest period of economic growth since such records began being kept. Only Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have presided over longer periods of unbroken economic growth.
The way the Kultursmog glorifies its loved ones and spatters on its outcasts is done both by pumping out epithets and practicing neglect -- both benign neglect and malign neglect. It simply does not acknowledge its loved ones' failings (benign neglect) or its outcasts' achievements (malign neglect). Consider the elevation of Sen. Hillary Clinton since her defeat. She is exalted as a female pioneer, though she played down her gender through the first part of the race to stress her leadership qualities. Nowhere in the current laudations to her will you be reminded by the polluters of the Kultursmog of her early campaign finance irregularities (and shades of 1996, from Chinese donors), the planted questioners discovered in her audiences, or the Clinton machine's bullying of opponents. Then there were her lies about Bosnia and playing a role in the Northern Ireland peace treaty. All these scandals the Kultursmog simply neglects -- benign neglect.
Yet in treating those whom the pollutants of the Kultursmog consider unworthy, we see the smog's malign neglect. In the case of President Bush, where, aside from this column, have you heard of the Bush administration's protracted period of economic growth? Incidentally, the growth continues. We have not had a recession as economists define one, and we are not likely to have one. Instead, we may be entering into a period of inflation, a problem caused by the Fed. Nor is the president complimented for his splendid Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. No president since FDR was hit with the instantaneous violence that Mr. Bush was hit with on 9/11, and most of those who now carp at his reaction are what FDR called during World War II "back-seat drivers."
President Bush's war on terror is -- though it would be imprudent for him to boast of it -- a success. We have not been hit again, though no good is served by the president's crowing about this and thus goading the barbarians to act. As for Iraq, he listened to his proven commanders, adjusted tactics, and we are winning now. In a year or so, we will be pretty much out of the country, and the tyrants of the world will recognize that it is foolhardy to pull a Saddam Hussein and taunt the United States. This outgoing president is being snickered at now in the Kultursmog for his claims that history will judge him favorably. My guess is that he is right.
The Gallup Organization reports that his disapproval rating is the highest of any prior president, at 69 percent. Yet look who follows him: Harry Truman, at 67 percent. When President Truman left office, his approval rating was the lowest ever: 22 percent. At least the present president's approval rating is at 28 percent. The historically innocent have no appreciation for the steep uphill climb Truman's reputation has made. Nonetheless, the despised Harry of 1953 is the admired Harry today. George W. has reason to hope.
In the meantime, conservatives should be grateful for his appointments to the federal bench. They should admire his supply-side tax cuts and thank him for fighting today's isolationist currents that want to shut down free trade. When he took office, we had free trade agreements with three countries. Today that figure stands at 15. Finally, take another look at our foreign policy. The president went after those who were out to wreak havoc in the land, and he has succeeded. As William Shawcross, the famous British opponent of the Vietnam War and champion of this war, recently wrote: "vindicated … will be the American people, and some of their leaders. God bless them!"