Saturday, January 26, 2008


In yet another of the boxes that clutter Malcolm's attic and garage must be Richard Reeves' s book, now out-of-print, on the 38th President of the United States. A historical accident, he uniquely was not elected to the office of President or Vice-President.

Gerald Ford was, by general consent:
an ordinary, if extraordinarily nice, man ... unprepared and unwilling to assert his authority, in desperation incessantly traveling the country, making speeches and pumping hands, to avoid his Presidential responsibilities.
He may not on merit have deserved his place in the Vice-Presidency, but he was the best the Nixon Administration could get past Senate scrutiny (and by 92 votes to 5). What nobody could anticipate, he thereby became President within the year. Because it was undergoing repair, the Fords never even had the chance to occupy the vice-presidential residence at Number One Observatory Circle.

Ford did the competent best he could, and could have been far, far worse. His outstanding virtue was modesty: he never claimed that which he knew he was not.

And now we have the present incumbent.

This Sunday evening, Fox News are doing a special as the Bush Presidency nears the end:

FOX News' Bret Baier was granted unprecedented access by George W. Bush as the president begins the final year of his extraordinarily consequential tenure ...

... the president talks openly of his aim to consolidate his mark on history, his "Freedom Agenda," the failure to catch Usama bin Laden, the role faith has played in his presidency and how he was inspired by the writings and deeds of Abraham Lincoln.

A cynical liberal reviewed the preview of this program:

Baier previewed his documentary — “George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish” — on Fox News this afternoon. He said that what surprised him from the interview was the President’s repeated efforts to link himself to Abraham Lincoln:

We talked a lot about President Lincoln. And there's going to be a lot of people out there who watch this hour and say, is he trying to equate himself with Lincoln?

I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.

And the President reflects on that. This is a President who is really reflecting on his place in history.

What is truly breath-taking there is not the usual Fox bias (which should go as a preconceived assumption) but the gross misrepresentation. Lincoln did not "leave" office: his brains were blown across the wall of the box at -- yes -- Ford's Theatre. That was 14th August, 1865, just over a month after his second Inauguration.

As for being "essentially hated", Lincoln's "National Union" Party had out-polled the Democrats by 2.2M to 1.8M in the previous November. Lincoln had taken the Electoral College by 212 votes to 21. Even allowing for the 80 votes of the Confederacy, which obviously were not exercised, that is a decisive victory, 22 States to just 3. All of which is somewhat better than Bush's minority vote in 2000 or even in 2004.

The Bush pretension to be a Lincoln goes back some way, including sporting Richard J. Carwardine's biography of Lincoln alongside the risible Albert Camus for his summer holiday reading list.

Garrett Epps did a piece for in 2006:
On the personal level, Lincoln had none of Bush's obstinacy and egotism. He scorned yes men, and surrounded himself with Cabinet officials better known than he was, refusing to purge even those actively working against his own political interests. He had no personal vanity at all (when a political opponent accused him of being "two-faced," Lincoln responded, "If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?"). The historical imagination rebels at the very idea of his swaggering around in the cavalry equivalent of Bush's flight suit. He was always ready to sit down with his adversaries, favored compromise whenever possible and never held a grudge. "With malice toward none, with charity toward all" was for Lincoln more than a rhetorical flourish; it was the key to his greatness.

Most important, Lincoln was a lawyer. It is hard to find any sign that Lincoln thought himself above the law. He had none of Bush's scorn for procedures and rights. He used executive authority in an emergency -- and always dutifully reported to Congress and asked for its ratification as soon as a new session began. He restricted civil liberties temporarily, and without enthusiasm -- he once compared his suspension of habeas corpus to the drugs doctors give to induce vomiting. Unlike this administration—which will not ask for legal authority even when it knows it will receive it -- Lincoln never did anything to prove a point. He didn't have an authoritarian bone in his lanky body. His objective was victory for the Union, not power for himself.

George W. Bush is Lincoln the way Dan Quayle is Jack Kennedy.
It all makes Malcolm wish to recycle the joke about the establishment of the Ronnie Reagan Presidential Library: it contained several books, and some of them hadn't been coloured in yet.

The second Bush Presidential Library (if there is anything available to be contained therein) should be a thing of wonder:
On November 1, 2001, President Bush issued an executive order entitled “Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act.” His order effectively overturned an act of Congress and a Supreme Court decision and could make it far more difficult for Americans to learn of government abuses. Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, declared that the executive order “effectively rewrote the Presidential Records Act, converting it from a measure guaranteeing public access to one that blocks it.”
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