Last week, we saw Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. He dropped by National Review’s offices, talked to us for an hour about health care. He was bright, earnest, public-spirited, eager, open-minded, thoughtful — concerned. He struck me as an especially good staffer or policy analyst who just happened to be the officeholder, too.
A month or two ago, I spent some time with Congressman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsinite who chairs the House Budget Committee, and thought basically the same thing.
And as I listened to Jindal last week, this question occurred to me: Does the Democratic party have people like this? Are there analogues on the other side?
I know I’m a hopeless partisan, but it seems to me that the Democratic party is full of hacks like Joe Biden, or ideologues like President Obama. If there are Jindals and Ryans on the other side, I’d love to know about them. It would be reassuring.
In the last several weeks, you have heard this, from all quarters, or most quarters: Everyone has gotten Putin wrong. Certainly George W. Bush did, and Obama has, too. People love to quote Bush on Putin’s “eyes” and “soul.” See what an idiot ol’ W. was!
Let’s review the historical record. In June 2001, Bush was five months into his presidency and standing with Putin at a joint press conference in Slovenia. Ron Fournier, the American reporter, said,
A question to both of you, if I may. President Putin, President Bush has said that he’s going to go forward with his missile-defense plans basically with or without your blessing. Are you unyielding in your opposition to his missile-defense plan? Is there anything you can do to stop it?
And to President Bush: Did President Putin ease your concern at all about the spread of nuclear technologies by Russia, and is this a man that Americans can trust?
Bush said, “Yes.” Then he said, to Putin, “Do you want to go first?” Putin answered Fournier. (See the transcript here.) Then Bush said,
I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.
At the end of that year — in December 2001 — Bush gave notice of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. This allowed the United States to go forward with a defense against nuclear missiles. The Democrats howled their disapproval.
In coming years, Bush saw Putin in a very clear-eyed way. Obama and the Democrats promised a “reset” with Russia. Ask yourself: A “reset” from what? The answer is, from Bush’s approach to Russia, which was obviously tough-minded. Do you recall that Hillary Clinton had a prop — a big button with the word “reset” mistranslated into Russian?
If Bush had harbored a naive view of Putin, there would have been nothing for Obama & Co. to reset from.
But I feel sure this will be forgotten — it already has — because people are in love with Bush’s June 2001 statement. They want to hang it around him forever. Which is not just unfair but d-u-m dumb.