Economist reconsiders 'Toxic Texan'


Geraldine Sealey
April 3, 2004 2:10AM (UTC)

In its latest issue, The Economist says it is not endorsing anyone in the U.S. presidential election just yet, but is putting Bush on notice that he has fallen out of favor. The magazine sent its non-endorsement around by email with the title "The Economist Reconsiders its Support of Bush: Toxic Texan's Flaws are Plain for All to See."

From the Economist: "According to a lead article in this week's Economist, the list of criticisms against the President is long, stretching from stunning voltes faces, such as Mr. Bush's introduction of steel tariffs, to 'Don't Mess with Texas' discourtesies, such as banning firms from countries who opposed the Iraq war to bid for contracts there, to abuses of power, such as Dick Cheney's refusal to reveal who talked to his energy commission. But, in the end, Mr. Bush must mainly be judged by his two main challenges: the economy and the war against terrorism."

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"Mr. Bush's predictable challenge has been the economic downturn -- which may still be his weakest electoral point in the swing states of the mid-west. The president came to power shortly after the bursting of the economic bubble of the Clinton years, which was clearly not Mr. Bush's fault. And, says the magazine, his basic strategy of throwing money at the problem in the shape of tax cuts and increased government spending has been the right one. Yet, Mr. Bush has done more than just that. His budgeting arithmetic has often been haywire: his most recent effort includes no provision for keeping troops in Afghanistan and Iraq beyond next year. His desperation to provide cuts in tax rates has often blinded him to more effective ways to stimulate the economy. As for government spending, he has scattered that around 'like a drunken sailor' as Mr. McCain has put it, with far too much being doled out in pork for friendly industries. His acts of protectionism - to farming and drug and energy firms - have led to disgraceful legislation and favors to big lobbyists. Meanwhile, little effort has been made to reform the huge entitlement programs that are due to go bankrupt once the baby-boomers start to retire."

"Mr. Bush's response to terrorism has been more resolute. He prepared his country for a long struggle and positioned the struggle not just in terms of punishing terrorists but of spreading reform and democracy, particularly in the Middle East. And he has made a priority of weapons of mass destruction and proliferation. In two and a half years, he has driven al-Qaeda into hiding, toppled two barbaric regimes and induced several other roguish states (including Iran and Libya) to rethink their ways. Even his worst enemies would not depict him as a weak leader."

"Yet, mistakes have been made by 'the war president' with a few specific instances of stepping near -- perhaps even over -- the line that divides error from irresponsibility. Contrary to Mr. Bush's assertions, the war was one of choice, not necessity. Given that, it was foolish to exaggerate Saddam's weaponry, downright misleading to imply a link between the Iraqi leader and al-Qaeda, and hubristic to do so little to prepare for post-war reconstruction. Mistakes have piled up: handing the running of the country to the Pentagon, letting looters rip out the infrastructure, disbanding the Iraqi army, and dismissing outside efforts to help. The continuing violence in the country shows why Iraq, like Afghanistan, needs more troops, not fewer."

"Moreover, despite the outpouring of sympathy in Europe for America after September 11th, Mr. Bush's country now finds itself more resented by its main allies than ever before. Mr. Bush has said his battle is not just a military one but also an effort to promote democracy and human rights. Yet, the face of American justice is Guantanamo Bay and the trampling of civil liberties. If opinion polls are to be believed, Mr. Bush is not faring too badly at the moment, despite Mr. Clarke's barrage. In fact, he seems to have edged back in front of his Democratic opponent, John Kerry. And, he has also raised $170 million. If Mr. Bush could combine some of his dogged determination and sense of purpose with a willingness to learn from his mistakes, he could in the end deserve a second term. To justify his re-election, Mr. Bush does not have to be perfect -- merely better than Mr. Kerry. This is a choice Americans must make later this year. And so, eventually does The Economist."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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