Aversion to Risk Taking?
Victor Davis Hanson wonders why it is that President Bush is willing to take risks abroad but avoids doing so at home:
We don't like record deficits, high gas prices (whether low or high if adjusted for inflation is irrelevant to the average person), and a souther border that we will not or cannot control. Whether these things are good or bad, the average person sees them as bad. It is more a matter of perception than anything else.
Yet after the president's successful reelection, and the stunning news of the Iraqi voting and its encouraging aftershocks in the region, George Bush enjoys little more than a 50 percent approval rating. Unemployment is low. Inflation remains moderate. Interest rates are affordable, and real growth is strong, Why, then, the discontent?
Perhaps the wear and tear of being targeted by elites for nearly five years, from Michael Moore to the New York Times, has taken its toll. Or perhaps the casualties from the Iraq war and hysteria over Social Security reform explain the discontent. It is said that the Terri Shiavo matter did not win the president American support either.
Perhaps. But I think the answer lies instead in a strange paradox of George W. Bush and the optimistic prospects he has raised about solving problems of the first order. The President has shown himself so resolute in matters of foreign policy that he has raised the bar of his expected performance on the home front. (emphasis in the original)
That is, by standing nearly alone in the Middle East, by never wavering in the face of unprecedented venom, and by weathering everything from Abu Ghraib to the televised beheadings, Bush has established himself a man of principle who welcomes the chance to offer unpopular but needed solutions to real crises.
But, on the domestic front, there are at least three critical issues that engage Americans Left and Right — and right now Social Security reform, as salutary as it could be, is unfortunately not one of them. In contrast, worry about long-term American financial strength, illegal immigration, and soaring energy prices most surely are.
In short, the president's critical strength — his bravery in the face of bitter status-quo invective, his worry more over history's verdict than polls of the hour, and his concern over the honor, rather than the mere happiness, of the American people — is either being untapped or is dissipated here at home.
How odd that the more risk-taking and principled the administration's sense of purpose abroad, the more we demand the same at home — and thus feel it sorely when such tough leadership on what matters most to Americans is wanting. And that, I think, explains the paradox of why a president, in the midst of crafting one of the most successful foreign policies since World War II, can only convince half the population that they are, in fact, living in historic times.
Do you agree or not?
We hear ad nauseum that we are a "divided nation". Perhaps, but is our current division really any different than the divisions of the past? One of the great temptations is to believe that the times that you live in are better (or worse), unique and different, than at any time in history. Sometimes this is true, but I think that most of the time we magnify a current situation and forget (or never learned) about events in history.
Why, also, is the president spending valuable political capital on Social Security reform? Yes it is surely important, but it isn't at the forefront of what most people are thinking about on a daily basis. More people worry (rightly or wrongly) about uncontrolled illegal immigration, yet this has become the new "third rail" of American politics. Why?
We expect Bush to take on tough issues here at home. Bill Clinton briefly tried to reform health care but quickly gave it up after a diasasterous start. We expected Clinton to punt, but we expect Bush to be strong. Is he not taking up the tough domestic issues, and if not, why not?