The Corner

The ‘JV Team’

All presidents say things they come to regret. So do all people (I imagine). It’s part of life. But sometimes we hang things around people’s necks without mercy.

Let me walk down Memory Lane — but only as far as the presidency before the current one.

You will often hear from free-marketeers (of whom I am one) that George W. Bush said, “When somebody hurts, government has got to move.” They use this quote when they want to portray Bush as yet one more socialist. They forget, or never knew, that he waged almost a one-man battle to reform Social Security (in a free-market direction). No other politician has had the spine to do this.

The “government has got to move” thing, he said while giving a Labor Day address in Ohio. Those unfortunate words — which are construed to represent a general philosophy — came in a particular context. Bush was talking about the extension of unemployment benefits. He was trying to justify it (successfully or not). He said, “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move. And that’s why we’ve signed extensions to the unemployment insurance, so people can get their feet back on the ground. [The Labor Department] passes out emergency grants for people who are hurting to cover health-care costs and child-care costs and other critical needs. And that’s a useful role for the government.”

We can debate that — but Bush’s words don’t make him Karl Marx.

Also, people misinterpret what Bush said about Vladimir Putin, and his “eyes” and his “soul.” Bush made the statement in question at a particular time, in a particular place, and for a particular purpose. I wrote about this in a column, here. It may be true, however, that people would rather have the mockery than the facts. We are loath to give up the mockery.

Possibly, Bush’s most infamous statement is “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” This has entered the lore as “Heckuva job, Brownie.” He said this to the FEMA director, Michael Brown, after Hurricane Katrina hit. He was giving a kind of pep talk in the midst of this horrendous situation. He surely wishes he hadn’t said it.

And this brings me to Obama — who, late last year, described ISIS, or whatever those butchers are calling themselves now, as a “JV team.” “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is, if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

The whole point of my blogpost is this: If George W. Bush had said something so glib and now galling as that, it would be pretty much the most famous or infamous phrase in America. It would be hung around his neck until the end of time. “JV team! JV team! Heckuva JV team!” I am willing to cut O some slack: We say what we think is true at a particular time, and sometimes it turns out to be untrue. We have to eat our words. If we were all held accountable for all of our words, who would ’scape whipping? What burns me is the selectivity, the bias, the partisanship of our “mainstream culture.”

P.S. It seems clear that Obama was knocking ISIS as a JV team because he wanted to keep trumpeting the fact that, during his presidency, we had managed to locate and kill bin Laden. And al-Qaeda was decimated, you see? And that was the main fact in the War on Terror (as we called it in the bad old days).

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