April 27, 2006
The selection of conservative pundit and talk show host Tony Snow as President Bush’s new press secretary is the most visible change yet to an administration looking for a makeover without changing any of the people in the inner circle. Show took the job because he’s essentially been promised a seat at that table.
Much is being made of the fact that Snow has criticized President Bush, his administration, and the GOP Congress over the last few years. Yet most of his critique was done with an eye to telling them how to fix their mistakes. It’s not like he’s not in the Bush camp. As the President himself joked yesterday about the criticisms – you should hear what he said about the other guys.
A review of the way Snow thinks should convince you that he’s a perfect match for an administration that sees the world in black and white, knows it’s right, and so has little patience or tolerance for other points of view.
First, Tony Snow knows how to exaggerate. Here’s Tony Snow in November 2005: “Righteous ignorance has become a hallmark of the Howard Dean Democrats: Lacking any sensible doctrine with which to combat the continued growth of American conservatism, they have been reduced to a state of unshakable hysteria, beginning with the conviction that George W. Bush is the most vicious, evil, conniving president in American history.”
While there may be almost as many left-wing citizens who think Bush is “evil” as there were right-wing citizens who thought Clinton was evil, most of the Democratic opposition to Bush is based on policy differences. Conservatives often attack liberals and Democrats by insisting they are irrationally enraged about Bush. They are fond of telling their opponents what they (the opponents) think, how they feel, and what they should do if they want to regain power. Thanks for being so considerate, folks!
Second, Tony Snow can utter complete falsehoods with a straight face. Here’s Tony Snow in December 2005: “A president has constitutional authority to approve warrantless searches of known and credible terror suspects, especially when he puts in place procedures that allow all three branches of government to oversee the operation.”
As anyone who has followed the warrantless domestic surveillance issue knows, Bush has been criticized precisely because he went around the FISA court (the judicial branch) and the minimalist briefings received by eight of the 535 members of Congress – who were not allowed to discuss the issues with staff or Congressional colleagues – can hardly be considered Congressional oversight.
Third, Tony Snow is capable of re-writing history so it suits him. Here’s more of Tony Snow in December 2005: “Thus, John Kennedy launched a war on poverty, asserting in his Inaugural Address that we had it within our power to vanquish hardship and want. Within years, the government began dumping untold billions into like-minded efforts to clean the air and water, provide health care for all, and ring in an era of manageable economic growth and prosperity. The only flaw in the Orderliness Hypothesis is that it doesn’t work if people are present. The war on poverty looked great on paper. It failed miserably in real life. Air-cleansing regulatory schemes looked great in computer models, but failed abysmally in reality. Centralized health care boasted of chalkboard elegance, but is breaking the bank right here, right now. The myth of managed affluence collapsed with the Berlin Wall.”
The statement above was part of a larger defense of the messiness of Iraq – and the unworkable nature of timetables for the war – or anything involving human behavior. Yet it’s instructive to notice that Tony Snow is unaware that the effort to clean up the air and water in this country actually worked. There’s really not a serious debate about that, is there? The issue we argue about today is how much money is it worth to get smaller incremental improvements in air and water quality, now that we’ve achieved the larger and easier improvements.
There is also the selective nature of Snow’s choices to make his point that human behavior makes it difficult to plan and predict how events will unfold. He’s right that human behavior is messy, but why does he think that only Democrats persist in trying to bring order to a chaotic world? And imply that Democrats are therefore naïve about how the world works? This is part of the conservative penchant for telling other people what they (the other people) believe about the world. Personally, I want a President who tells the country that ending poverty, intolerance, or terrorism is within our power. Believing that is a necessary first step to achieving it. Tony Snow must know that, right?
Fourth, Tony Snow is no slave to consistency when there are political allies to support. Here’s Snow criticizing the Clinton administration for embarking on the war in Kosovo” “It is difficult to identify a reason for our newborn war against Serbia, unless it be the right of global elites to impose their tastes on lessers through the force of arms. Never in our history has a call to combat seemed as perplexing and hollow as this one. President Clinton and his aides have tried repeatedly to persuade themselves and Congress of the need to enter a far-off civil conflict in Kosovo, but no single reason seems satisfactory. The White House thus has offered a shifting menu of justifications . . .”
Substitute Bush and Iraq in the above and you can assume that Tony Snow would be against the invasion of Iraq. But no, he has been a vocal supporter of Bush’s Iraq attack. Some will say that 9/11 changed everything and so Snow would have supported such an invasion by a President Gore, had he won in 2000. Actually, 9/11 changed everything – except politics. You can be pretty certain that Tony Snow would have opposed most of what a hypothetical Gore administration would have done, even post-9/11.
Fifth, he’s in tune with President Bush on most issues. Most media people have stayed away from the Intelligent Design (ID) issue but Tony Snow, like President Bush, has jumped in to explain how ID deserves a chance in high schools, even if it can’t compete in scientific journals. Here’s Tony Snow from August 2005, with a certainty born of ignorance about how science works: “These little insights give us the basis for admitting both views into the educational system. Evolutionary theory, like ID, isn’t verifiable or testable. It’s pure hypothesis — like ID — although very popular in the scientific community.”
The “little insights” that Tony Snow helpfully provided earlier in his column were a series of mistaken ideas about science intended to minimize the stature of evolutionary science. He is, of course, exactly wrong when he says that evolutionary theory isn’t verifiable or testable. But the important thing is, he seems to be an intellectual match for George W. Bush – at least on this issue.
Sixth and finally, Tony Show is right for this job because he is a true believer. Here’s Tony Snow from January 2006: “Make no mistake: Despite the shortcomings in the speech, George W. Bush is the only figure who counts in American politics. On the seminal issues of national security and global destiny, he positively dwarfs the political opposition.”
I’ve always been willing to acknowledge that the war in Iraq and Bush’s approach to terror (two separate issues he’s repeatedly tried to link) may end up being successful. I think that’s unlikely, but possible. But the Tony Snow’s of the world really have drunk the Kool-aid. It’s at least as likely that Bush’s approach is less efficient and has made matters much worse.
Though Republicans and conservatives agree that globalization is inevitable, they believe it can be on our terms – including a unilateral U.S. foreign policy, an exclusive U.S. right to preemptive action, and keeping the U.N. out because they would only screw up things, like Iraq.
Not only does George W. Bush not “dwarf” the opposition, his administration is likely an aberration in an otherwise gradual integration of the U.S. and other countries into an integrated community of nations and organizations that is part of the gradual evolution and integration of societies the planet over.