Do Something !

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.

Steadfast

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.

Media shenanigans

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.

Steadfast

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.

Steadfast

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.

Economists’ Assessment

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.

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7 thoughts on “Do Something !”

  1. “Globalist”

    That is an accusation I heard on Christian talk radio and saw at the American Conservative.   G.H.W. Bush was attacked as a globalist.   Bush’s line about a “new world order” was said with a sneer of condescension.

    This misses much.   The “globalism” of G.H.W. Bush was very different than the globalism of G.W. Bush, and very different from the globalism of George Soros or contemporary Davos Man.

    Especially in the case of G.H.W. Bush, he expected that, after the failure of the Soviet Union, that shifting alliances would be formed according to actual interests of peoples, and be centered on trade.   G.H.W. Bush clearly expected America to serve as the leader of the Western nations, and would occasionally render discipline to outlaw nations that were guilty of such high crimes as invading their neighbors and using rape as a weapon against civilian populations.   G.H.W. Bush did not expect a world government to emerge from this new order; he clearly had higher expectations of the United Nations, who blew the opportunity they had been handed.   But the failure of the United Nations to reform itself is not any fault of G.H.W. Bush.   Neither should he be accused of “globalism” without a hefty application of nuance.

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  2. AIDS

    I saw a Leftist blogger saying some badly misinformed things in an attack on G.H.W. Bush at a website that should care more about the truth.   I saw that the blogger was born during the G.H.W. Bush Administration.

    A slightly less offensive article ran in the New York Times.   It cites a Leftist professor of history who should not be trusted.

    The language of the NYT article can be described as bitter as it recounts that G.H.W. Bush did not consider homosexuality to be “normal.”

    On that particular, I agree with the former President.

    The NYT article does at least include the details that G.H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Ryan White Act, both of which were a big deal to the homosexual community, especially in the context of H.I.V.

    They neglect to say that the funding included in those measures fully funded all the American researchers who were working on issues known to be related to the investigation of AIDS and HIV.   It doubled that amount of funding, to encourage other research labs to undertake studies of related issues.   After that, what would extra money accomplish?   If you throw too much government money at a problem, you entice researchers into dropping promising lines of research into other matters to take up less useful research just because it qualifies for the funds.

    And the NYT article neglects to mention PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Research.   That was a program aimed at Africa, where HIV/AIDS had broken out of gay circles into populations at large and was rapidly becoming a massive health problem.   George H.W. Bush provided real leadership where it mattered.

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  3. First let  me say that GHWB was a Republican, and so am I (I guess; we’ll see how 2020 goes..)  so I’m not writing to bash him.

    But I don’t understand this thing you and others keep saying,about how great it was that GHWB reassured other world leaders that the US was not going to “take over” , nor even take advantage of the “consummation devoutly to be wished” that we were at long last witnessing when the USSR collapsed after (for people born in the 50s)   a lifetime of anxiety.

    Obviously, the US wasn’t going to move in and take  over the newly    independent  former Soviet Socialist “Republics”.  If the USSR couldn’t control those polities from right next door,  even with military force , did anybody imagine WE were gonna attempt it from across the world?

    So exactly what do you mean by the world ‘s alleged fear of the US  “cowboying around breaking things”

    What woulda happened if we HAD thrown our weight around a bit more at that point! At least rhetorically?  I mean, would France, Germany and England have made war on us?  Would those totally penurious former Soviet satellites  have done so?

    Another  casualty of the GHWB funeral festival, btw: Reagan and his  rhetoric: “Tear down this wall!”, and his bankrupting the USSR with his “Star Wars” gambit.  Now, suddenly,  everything came out OK only because GHWB reassured the world that HE was “not as that man”: his predecessor, the consummate “cowboy” in his iconic  Stetson hat? I’ve never subscribed to the GOP cult of Reagan’s posthumous divinity, but–WUWT?

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  4. In answer to Hypatia’s question, the world seems to want to accuse us of imperialism, particularly Western Europe (exception: Thatcher and Blair); this disguises their true feelings of inadequacy and a poor understanding of our history.

    As for the use of GHWB as a weapon with which to bludgeon Trump, I simply shrug my shoulders and ignore it. As I wrote, Bush was a gracious and honorable man but that has nothing to do with Trump. If I recall, Bush suffered from some slings and arrows as well. Remember the infamous cover of Newsweek?

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  5. Hypatia:
    First let  me say that GHWB was a Republican, and so am I (I guess; we’ll see how 2020 goes..)  so I’m not writing to bash him.

    But I don’t understand this thing you and others keep saying,about how great it was that GHWB reassured other world leaders that the US was not going to “take over” , nor even take advantage of the “consummation devoutly to be wished” that we were at long last witnessing when the USSR collapsed after (for people born in the 50s)   a lifetime of anxiety.

    Obviously, the US wasn’t going to move in and take  over the newly independent  former Soviet Socialist “Republics”.  If the USSR couldn’t control those polities from right next door,  even with military force , did anybody imagine WE were gonna attempt it from across the world?

    Obvious to us that the USA was not going to move in and take over.   Not obvious at all around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.   Also, third world leaders in lots of countries were consumers of corrupt journalism.   Basically, by 1990, journalism globally was an anti-American and Leftist project, with a handful of exceptions.   Soviet dezinformatya was echoed by nominally independent journalists.   Fearmongering about America was, and still is, a popular pastime among journalists.

    So exactly what do you mean by the world ‘s alleged fear of the US  “cowboying around breaking things”

    Everybody outside America was likely to be at least somewhat fearful.

    What woulda happened if we HAD thrown our weight around a bit more at that point! At least rhetorically?  I mean, would France, Germany and England have made war on us?  Would those totally penurious former Soviet satellites  have done so?

    With respect to the events of 1990 in the Soviet Union, I think France and England were non-factors.   The Germans by then clearly were on the road to reconciliation and reunion.   This was huge.

    The issue was how much the Russians themselves believed their own propaganda.   If there were Soviet hardliners who though America might come crashing in, then they would be more likely to protect the Communist system with military force.   GHW Bush was reassuring those guys, both directly and through intermediaries, that they did not need to hold those fears.

    Another  casualty of the GHWB funeral festival, btw: Reagan and his  rhetoric: “Tear down this wall!”, and his bankrupting the USSR with his “Star Wars” gambit.  Now, suddenly,  everything came out OK only because GHWB reassured the world that HE was “not as that man”: his predecessor, the consummate “cowboy” in his iconic  Stetson hat? I’ve never subscribed to the GOP cult of Reagan’s posthumous divinity, but–WUWT?

     

    It took Reagan’s aggressive posture, reversing the weakness of the Carter Administration, to press the point home on the Soviets that they could not possibly keep up with America as a global superpower because their economy could not support it and their technological capabilities were falling further and further behind; only keeping up by spying and stealing from the west.   The growing recognition that their position was deteriorating gave some support to Gorbachev and Glasnost.   But recall that Glasnost was only about four years old at the time, and a number of those hardliners were not keeping up with the pace of change.   Fear was rife in their ranks.

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  6. Yeah, but: what catastrophe is GHWB supposed to have averted?

    I get that they were afraid of us .

    So what?

    My question was, were they gonna take some preemptive action against us?  If it was just a matter of journalists foreign and domestic croaking about American imperialism, well, plus ça change…

    And if we weren’t actually under threat, then what is GWHB’s big accomplishment? 

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  7. Hypatia:
    Yeah, but: what catastrophe is GHWB supposed to have averted?

    I get that they were afraid of us .

    So what?

    My question was, were they gonna take some preemptive action against us?  If it was just a matter of journalists foreign and domestic croaking about American imperialism, well, plus ça change…

    And if we weren’t actually under threat, then what is GWHB’s big accomplishment? 

    The Eastern Europeans were being told to fear an American invasion.   The Russians were told to fear an American invasion.   There was nattering of all sorts, including suggestions that the Russians ought to launch their nukes to prevent an American attack.  Or that the Russians should mobilize their army and re-take their rightful possessions in Eastern Europe (because if they didn’t, America would use them as a waystation in the American invasion of Europe.

    You may think all of that was razy talk, but it was talk that was being circulated by big names in journalism, and passed along in diplomatic backchannels.   You have to recall that this is only a year after the beginning of the end and events were very fresh and fear was widespread.

    Mostly the fear was of a brutal military action by Russia, on their own citizens and on Ukrainians, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, etc., as well as against Georgia and the Asian Soviet Republics, some of which had Russian nukes stationed on their bases.  Some of the Smart People were predicting millions of casualties, and a resulting chaos that would unleash nuclear horror.   NATO was on a state of alert for many months.

    George H.W. Bush spent most of his days countering disinformation and soothing anxieties.   He was a great success.   The Soviet Union collapsed with less than a hundred casualties, and did so with amazing rapidity.

    So much so that a year later American media considered it old news not worth talking about during the campaign of 1992.

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