Steve’s right — the tangled web of Peggy Noonan’s neural pathways are particularly difficult to navigate this week (italic is Steve’s, quoting Noonan):
At a certain point, a president must own a presidency. For George W. Bush that point came eight months in, when 9/11 happened. From that point on, the presidency — all his decisions, all the credit and blame for them — was his. The American people didn’t hold him responsible for what led up to 9/11, but they held him responsible for everything after it. This is part of the reason the image of him standing on the rubble of the twin towers, bullhorn in hand, on Sept.14, 2001, became an iconic one. It said: I’m owning it.
“I’m owning it.” Noonan’s partly right about that: after running scared on 9/11 and ducking the situation for a couple of days, Bush began on that Friday to act as if having presided over the worst act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil was a mark of virtue. In retrospect, it’s as if he was pleased about it — proud of it. Eight years later, I can’t help thinking he really was pleased: now he’d be consequential, rather than the no-account black sheep of his family.
It’s true that he wasn’t held responsible for what led up to 9/11 — his administration and its propagandists took great pains to shift the blame to his predecessor — but it’s odd how Noonan puts that. She mentions responsibility for what went before (presumably so her right-wing base can think about how it’s all Clinton’s fault) and responsibility for what came after (it’s OK now, if you’re a Republican, to say bad things about Bush), but it’s as if she still can’t face the fact that what we need to talk about is responsibility for what happened on 9/11. Yes, I’m playing with words a bit — but it’s as if Noonan doesn’t want to address the point that something unspeakably horrible happened that day — and on whose watch? It’s as if she can accept the build-up (all the fault of the Democrats) and the aftermath (so much failed Republican promise), but looking at the actual event is unthinkable. Which it wouldn’t be if it had happened in a Democrat’s administration; then failure to obsess over the awful day would be unthinkable.
Basically, 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch, and the economic crisis happened on Bush’s watch — but for Bush, the clock started ticking on 9/12, whereas for Obama it started ticking on 1/20.
Moreover, says M.J. Rosenberg, although it’s not exactly a point of pride that there’s been no accountability for how vulnerable some of the nation’s most important structures were that day, still, it would have been, and is, all but impossible to point to any one person or persons whose decisions were responsible for what happened.
The same cannot be said about the catastrophic economic situation that Obama walked into when he took office. There is no uncertainty about who is responsible for that disaster:
[Obama’s] predecessor came into office after Bill Clinton produced the biggest surplus in our history and then chose to convert it into the biggest deficit in history by handing the Clinton surplus over to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts. Nor is there any question that Bush-Cheney chose to go to war in Iraq only because Bush and his team felt like it and planned on it from the earliest days of the Bush presidency. That decision not only produced the Iraq horrors which Obama has to fix but also allowed the war in Afghanistan to become the debacle it is today.
In the cases of the wars and the massive debt, Obama’s plight is the result ofchoices Bush and the Republicans made. Choices.
Time, whether nine months or nine years, will not change the fact that the Republicans chose to do these things to America. Even Noonan admits that, writing that the the American people rightly held Bush responsible for everything after 9/11 through the end of Bush’s term. So is there some statute of limitations on that? Is Bush no longer responsible for the damage he did because he is no longer in office? Is that how it works now? If so, it’s something new.