This has become a familiar problem in politics. At the moment that any news item comes along, media hacks want to be able to report on what reactions and consequences will result from the item. Politicians become immediately anxious to influence any outcomes in a direction favorable to them. Pundits have to have something clever or ponderous to say about everything. And, if it is international, all eyes are on the President to see how he will respond.
No; I am not about to talk about President Trump. I am thinking about President George Herbert Walker Bush. The memorial chatter in observance of his death has got me irked. He is rightfully being remembered as the great statesman who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he was called “gracious” and “statesman” and “reserved” in ways to deliberately contrast with President Trump, in hopes of making President Trump look bad by comparison. That was a very different time with very different circumstances. Current motives for lauding President G.H.W. Bush are transparent.
Now there is a spate of “he was actually horrible” reaction pieces. Here is an example of the c**p I mean:
Especially compared with current occupant of the Oval Office, George H. W. Bush was a dignified figure who served his country steadfastly in war and peace. He represented a center-right, internationalist strain of Republicanism that barely exists today. But it doesn’t make sense to canonize him.
I remember the G.H.W. Bush Administration days. I recall all the histrionics over the open discontent coming from behind the Iron Curtain, which was building because Mikhail Gorbachev was holding steady on his course of “Glasnost,” which was translated as “Openness.” I also recall mass media giving voice to lots of chatterers who were urging President Bush to “do something!” These were counterposed with chatterers expressing high anxiety about things going badly wrong if he did the wrong something. There was a huge debate raging over just what America should do to take advantage of the situation.
President G.H.W.B. was the right man for this circumstance. He was a cold warrior, well-acquainted with all the players, including China. He was well known by most world leaders. Nobody thought he would act rashly, and he was circumspect. In this case, by “circumspect” I do not mean to say that he was risk-averse, but, rather that he exhibited a pattern of careful and well-informed decisionmaking: “a careful consideration of all circumstances and a desire to avoid mistakes and bad consequences.”
There was a great storm of confusion and loud voices urging all sorts of action, and all sorts of fearmongering about what America might do to exploit the situation. President G.H.W.B. started calling heads of state, beginning with Gorbachev and proceeding all the way down the roster. This was something he had been doing all through 1989, since the unrest in the Eastern Bloc presaged the unrest in Russia. I recall some Important People predicting that, just as Luis XIV’s reforms let the pressure off just enough for the French cauldron to boil over in 1789, so Russia would explode in a massive bloodletting, and that the unrest would be a great opportunity for America to exploit.
Bush was calling to reassure everyone that America would not act rashly nor aggressively, and, if assistance was wanted, would help the Russian people to back away from generations of Communist rule, and that he looked forward to embracing his Russian friends as free partners on the world stage. The central message was that President G.H.W. Bush intended to do nothing, and allow the Russians and their client Soviet partners readjust their internal affairs without American meddling. This had been his consistent message to Gorbachev all through 1989.
You are probably familiar with several aphorisms to the effect of, ‘when things are going in a good direction, don’t get in the way.’ But that is really hard do; to refrain from acting when there is a daily clamor for you to act.
President Bush was faulted for inaction, called a “dumb lucky bystander,” trashed daily in the press. He was even called “a wimp;” which is a stunning description of a man who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross while piloting 58 torpedo bomber missions from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
You have to remember that this was back in the days of Leftist mass media hegemony. There were only the three alphabet networks, Public Broadcasting, and a brand-new little-known phenomenon, a cable channel dedicated to full time news broadcasting. CNN was new and was just one of 100 cable channels competing for attention in the relatively new world of cable. The only conservative publications were Commentary and National Review, both with miniscule circulation then as now. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was the only widespread source of conservative thought in America. The New York Times and the Washington Post dominated the national conversation, much more back then than now.
There was little in the way of talk radio. Rush Limbaugh had started in 1988 with 56 stations, the year after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, and was barely on over 100 stations at the time. (Otherwise, talk radio was mostly local, interviewing local commissioners and municipal department heads, or discussing health issues with a local doctor, or national shows that talked about music and Hollywood celebrities.) The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine allowed the major media organizations to quit maintaining a balance of “liberal” (Leftist) commentary and conservative commentary.
So media was a Leftist project, but most Americans did not recognize just how far left it had become. This allowed President Bush to be slandered daily with little in the way of countervailing defense. There were still a hundred or so conservative daily papers in those days, but they were overwhelmed by the flood of Leftist ink and Leftist broadcasting.
President G.H.W. Bush had his defenders, including the most stalwart Bob Dole. But on the national scene, he was holding steady, reassuring the world most evenings by telephone to encourage everyone to simply let the Soviet system collapse without meddling, and not to worry about all the fearmongering from the press. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was a new round of fearmongering about American meddling, which kept G.H.W.B busy soothing political anxieties around the globe in early-early morning or very late-night phone calls.
By the time of the 1992 campaign, the Soviet Union had collapsed, with total casualties less than a hundred, not millions. Boris Yeltsin had been leading the new Russian Federation for a year, and the whole subject was considered “old news” as far as American mass media was concerned.
Saddam Hussein miscalculated badly. He mistook American inaction during a clear moment of opportunity to be an indication of American weakness and of President Bush’s personal weakness. He invaded Kuwait, which he had wanted for a very very long time. His minions treated Kuwaitis badly. News of atrocities, and refugees, slipped out of Kuwait.
The ruling family of Kuwait had an important personal friend in George H.W. Bush; they had had warm acquaintances for many years. He told Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait or else. Then, to back up his threat, he requested that the Pentagon get to work in earnest on war plans.
But the situation was complicated by the fact that there was no Soviet counterbalance to American power, and the Europeans were going nuts about American cowboys swaggering around the world and breaking things. There was all sorts of Congressional carping about how G.H.W. Bush would lead us into a disaster. So, President Bush decided to act as the leader of a group, and then patiently pulled together a coalition. Several (seemingly) important international members decided to play coy, and so President Bush agreed not to invade Iraq, but instead to go only so far as was needed to liberate Kuwait.
He kept his promise. Even though it was clear to everyone that what would be best would be to move on in to Baghdad, President Bush kept his promise.
There were some really interesting economic changes in the 1980s. The one we best remember is the Reagan tax cut. But there was a stock market crash in 1987, and a slo-mo disaster among savings&loans that began with a high profile bankruptcy in 1985, then progressed through a number of bankruptcies until Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings went bankrupt in 1989. The deregulation of savings&loans under Carter ended with new regulations in 1990. That was accompanied in a budget deal in which the Democrats had forced President Bush to accept a deal that modestly raised taxes, famously breaking his “no new taxes” pledge from the 1988 campaign. The American economy stalled into a mild recession in 1990.
President G.H.W. Bush huddled with his economic team, and decided that the fundamentals of the American economy were sound and that things were sorting out smoothly. He decided that the best approach was to do nothing and let the power of American enterprise work things out.
Of course, mass media was full of chattering about how awful the Bush economy was and how out of touch Bush was because he was spending all his time palling around with his international friends.
The campaign began in earnest in the fall of 1991, with America still technically in recession, but with signs of recovery all around. Democratic candidates all agreed that America needed a huge jobs bill to “put America back to work.” The most robust counterpoint to that was from Ross Perot, who was spending his own millions to put the budget deficit and the national debt into the national conversation.
The campaign of 1992 was really ugly if you were paying attention. Pat Buchanan ran a strong primary challenge in which he decried the national debt, trying to leverage some of Ross Perot’s work.
Bill Clinton emerged soon as the favorite Democrat. He had southern charm, a boyish grin, and spoke about being a “New Democrat.” His wife was a career lawyer lady popular among the Planned Parenthood wing. He could carry all those Southern conservative Democrats along with all the Leftist coastal Democrats and the rust belt union states. The pundit class agreed that he had what it would take to unseat an incumbent.
What nobody except Rush Limbaugh was talking about was that mass media was working as an extension of the Democrat campaign.
Media talking heads started saying that Bush was so focused on international events that he did not care about domestic affairs. Their spin was that his energetic and careful restraint on the international front caused him to neglect domestic issues. The recession was blamed on Bush, and the actual causes were ignored. Democrats raised the hue and cry, and mass media amplified it.
They also reinforced it through dishonest reporting on the economy. They reported every bit of economic news, maintaining a careful accounting. But that is not how Americans learn news. Bad economic news was reported, and good economic news was reported. Then the bad news was repeated, while the good news was shelved. Bad news got talked about, and good news did not get talked about. Reporters asked questions at news conferences about bad news, but not about good news. Chattering shows dwelt on bad news and ignored good news. Editorials focused on bad news and not good news. If much of the American economy is dependent on “consumer confidence,” then the whole economy resisted recovery because consumer confidence was killed by constant media focus on bad economic news.
James Carville famously observed that Clinton’s main message was “it’s the economy, stupid.” This sound bite leveraged the mass media narrative in a way that was condescending and arrogant, which was what made Carville such a good hatchet man.
At every opportunity, at the Convention and all through the fall campaigning, G.H.W. Bush kept saying that all the indicators were that the economy had bottomed out in the early spring of 1992, and that the American economy was robust, things were building up, and that the best thing to do about the economy was to do nothing.
He was ridiculed. He was mocked and and scoffed. He was called “out of touch.” He was called an out-of-touch elitist who never did his own grocery shopping. In an effort to address that, he went grocery shopping, which turned out disastrous when it became clear that he had never seen a checkout scanner in use. He was widely mocked for that, although grocery scanners had only come into widespread use in the past five years. The optics were bad.
And he was too genteel to call out the reporters who rode Air Force One for their poor and unfair journalism. They continued to carry bad economic news to boost Bill Clinton.
And in the third ring of this circus H. Ross Perot stole enough votes away to throw the election.
Clinton Economy ?
George H. W. Bush lost in 1992 and Bill Clinton became president. He had his massive jobs program introduced and passed in the House. It was spiked by Bob Dole in the Senate. Dole killed it so dead that it never was mentioned after that.
Mostly it was forgotten because it was not needed. Other economy-boosting measures introduced by Democrats also died. What happened was that the Fed kept interest rates low, and that was all that was needed for the American economy to recover. It was more than a recovery. It was a booming economy.
So, what Bill Clinton actually did for the economy was to do nothing, because Bob Dole prevented him from doing the stupid stuff he had promised while campaigning. He even won reelection in 1996 on the basis of his wonderful economic performance.
Bill Clinton and the Democrat-Media Complex are still taking bows for the wonderful economy of the 1990s. Nobody ever observes that it was G.H.W. Bush’s (and Bob Dole’s and Ronald Reagan’s) economy and economic policy that initiated it and provided room for American ingenuity to flourish.
In the July reports on the first half of 1993 a report came out that said that the economy was great, all indicators were up, and things looked really rosy.
What went unreported was a little paragraph in which it was noted that the bottom of the recession had been reached in March of the previous year.
What G.H.W.B. had been saying about the economy was exactly true. But Americans were never told that.