August 12, 2008
What the news media often neglect in their coverage of the candidates is attention to their underlying governing philosophies. I think these provide a much more accurate guide to their behavior in office than their tendency to make shifts on small-bore, particular issues.
For all the media hullabaloo around “flip-flopping” in the Bush/Kerry election, we would have had a much keener idea of President Bush’s flavor of governance had the media focused our attention on the core philosophies animating his team of advisers. Bush’s reliance on and deference to those advisers, their belief in the unitary executive, their dogged insistence on loyalty über alles, their neoconservative interventionism — all of these things could have been foreseen from what we knew in the run-up to the 2000 election. And it’s those facts that would have given us a much, much clearer picture of how the Bush administration would administer its departments, how it would respond to events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, a housing bust, etc.
Just take a look at one of Bush’s most-cited statements since 2001, presaged in this January 2000 profile of Karl Rove by Frank Bruni: “‘Anybody who gets in the way of his ambitions for the governor gets run off,’ said Tom Pauken, a former chairman of the Republican Party in Texas. ‘And if you’re not with Karl 100 percent, you’re an enemy.’”
I want to hear much, much less about flip-flops. Off-shore drilling, for all the ink given to it in the past two weeks, is an infinitesimal mote in the array of decisions and compromises #44 will have to navigate. Don’t tell me what minor issues a candidate has shifted positions on, tell me what core philosophies the candidate has been consistent about, what common threads of thought weave through his speeches, his actions, and the minds of his advisers. That will give me a much clearer sense of how he’ll govern.