Wednesday, January 5, 2005

'Stingy' is not Bush's big flaw

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

President Bush's reputation abroad as a trigger-happy cowboy ready to declare war and send U.S. sons and daughters to do the dying is deserved.

But "stingy"? No way.

This president has an impulse for extravagance. He's frittered away more than $200 billion in surplus inherited from Bill Clinton, then run up another $400 billion in deficits with plans to spend more hundreds of billions of non-existent dollars.

Nor is he stingy about U.S. environmental treasures: he's generously giving them away to lumber, oil and mining interests while also freeing up air and water for industry to pollute.

A better description for George W. Bush's sputtering response to the incomprehensibly devastating Asian tsunami disaster would be "disconnected"—aloof from the world that most people inhabit, a genetic condition he shares with his father.

President Bush Senior, you'll remember, came off as something of a dunce during his 1992 campaign when he seemed addled by a commonplace supermarket electronic checkout machine during a photo-op. Also glancing at his watch during a TV debate added to his image of aloofness and boredom with grassroots democracy. One of senior Bush's worst blunders was when he announced that Gulf War I wouldn't interfere with a date for golf.

So, conditioned by years of privileged upbringing and an insulated adult life, it was in character for Bush Junior to take three days before rousing himself at his Texas vacation hideaway to speak to the tsunami calamity. When his $15 million aid commitment backfired as "stingy," Bush inched up the amount to $35 million, still absurdly grudging.

Enter Bush's adept political mastermind, Karl Rove, who took over to prevent more goofs: U.S. aid was dramatically boosted to $350 million, a strained attempt at blank-check magnanimity.

Bush would've been far better off by simply promising "whatever is needed" as America's share and not be held to a number—and done it in the first hours as disaster news flashed around the world.

Rove's damage control really hit its stride when Bush's father and Bill Clinton were rounded up to lead private relief efforts for ravaged nations.

What irony: Clinton, whom Bush's followers tried to drive from office and whom they still villify, is recruited by the White House to help save the "compassionate" Republican president from his bumbling.

Americans' reputation for private charity hasn't been damaged, however: personal giving began long before the president showed his concern and was millions of dollars ahead of Bush's early commitments.

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