For those conservatives who feel dismayed at the anti-Bush fashion trend now increasingly in evidence among conservative commentators, several moments in the President’s press conference earlier today fell like rain on parched earth. The President took the following question:
Q Mr. President, polls continue to show sagging support for the war in Iraq. I’m curious as to how you see this developing. Is it your belief that long-term results will vindicate your strategy and people will change their mind about it, or is this the kind of thing you’re doing because you think it’s right and you don’t care if you ever gain public support for it? Thank you.
Before we get to the President’s answer, recall the presidents this country has known (and will know) who were obsessed with their own popularity. Think of the many times Bill Clinton allowed polling data and political advisers to shape military strategy. Imagine how horrifying it would be right now to have a John Kerry or Al Gore as president — no clear statements of policy, military decisions transparently shaped by “how it’s going to look”, a White House that smells to high heaven of vacillation, weakness, and even corruption. Imagine all of this for a second — and then consider the President’s response:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Look, Presidents care about whether people support their policies. I don’t mean to say, I don’t care. Of course, I care…. On the other hand, Ken, I don’t think you’ve ever heard me say — and you’ve now been covering me for quite a while, 12 years — I don’t think I’ve — 12 years? Yes. I don’t think you’ve ever heard me say, gosh, I’d better change positions because the polls say this or that. I’ve been here long enough to understand you cannot make good decisions if you’re trying to chase a poll. And so the second part of your question is, look, I’m going to do what I think is right, and if people don’t like me for it, that’s just the way it is.
Bush has virtually never in his political career made a decision that he didn’t think was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Conservatives who are piling on the anti-Bush bandwagon should consider that this trait–which makes the Bush family historically great–is a historical rarity to be treasured. This administration would do well to be more concerned with its popularity — the President and even Vice President should appear every week in press conferences and on the Sunday talk shows — if only to strengthen the political viability of their agenda, and be able to shape the terms of debate. But it was not so long ago that Americans could only wish for a president who was obviously trustworthy, upstanding, and principled. And the day is not far off when we will think ourselves lucky to have seen this President defend the honor and integrity of his office–and the American people–for eight years. The times are difficult, and nobody could have gotten through the last five years without making mistakes. But in that station to which God called him, George W. Bush has been himself honestly, and thank God for that.