The Long View 2007-07-16: Steyn & Black; Harry Potter ending; The Bush Effect

Former President George W. Bush

Former President George W. Bush

It is fascinating to look back on the Presidency of George W. Bush. He was widely disliked in his second term, but at this point hardly anyone bothers to notice him for good or ill. Which is rather unlike Ronald Reagan, who still inspires hatred nearly 40 years later. I suspect the current American president will get the same treatment, but we shall see.

John J. Reilly of course did not know that the next major political crisis in the United States would be the mortgage meltdown, in part caused by George W. Bush’s policies. But I find this question at the end of John’s blog post interesting:

The interesting question is whether the deadened political tissue will reanimate when something bad happens and the government needs popular support.

Steyn & Black; Harry Potter ending; The Bush Effect

We must feel sorry for Mark Steyn after the decision by a federal jury in Chicago on Friday 13th. As we read in his blog at Macleans on the Conrad Black trial:

There will be recriminations a-plenty over what was just announced on the 12th floor in Chicago. Conrad Black was found NOT GUILTY of racketeering, NOT GUILTY of tax fraud, NOT GUILTY of the CanWest scheme, NOT GUILTY on Bora Bora, the Park Avenue apartment and Barbara's birthday party, NOT GUILTY on the individual non-competes on US newspaper sales.

He has been found GUILTY in just two narrow areas - "obstruction of justice" re the security camera footage of him removing boxes from 10 Toronto Street, and three "mail fraud" counts relating to the APC non-compete agreement, in which (as the government argued) Black and Radler paid Black and Radler not to compete with Black and Radler.

The other three defendants were found guilty, too, on the mail-fraud charges. (What's "mail fraud"? It means you committed some sort of crime involving money or other valuables while using the US Postal System. It's one of several devices that Congress has invented over the years to circumvent the fact that the Constitution gives the federal government only limited criminal jurisdiction.) These convictions were far less than the prosecution wanted: just 10 counts out of 42. Still, all four defendants now face substantial prison time, assuming their appeals are rejected and they cannot get a new trial.

The trial has intrinsic interest: Conrad Black was a major Anglosphere press lord, just one rung below the level of Rupert Murdoch. I mention the trial here, however, chiefly as an admirer of Mark Steyn. Black arguably made Steyn what he is today, but Steyn's support for Black seems to have gone beyond the residual loyalty that a protege might owe a patron. Steyn's daily blogging of the trial has been witty, informed, and persuasive. (After my own recent service on a federal jury, it is also oddly familiar: are there any federal court houses where more than one trial at a time is conducted?) Still, I can't help but notice that Mark Steyn is now three-for- three regarding the major criminal prosecutions where he has chosen to support the defendant.

Steyn supported Martha Stewart when she was accused of insider trading. She was arguably innocent, but convicted nonetheless and served a brief term in prison. Steyn supported Scooter Libby, less because Steyn thought Libby innocent than because he thought trying the man for perjury in connection with the Valerie Plame affair was an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. Libby was convicted, too, but will serve no prison time, thanks to presidential clemency. Now comes Conrad Black, the case against whom does seem to have been puffed up beyond all reason, but who did do some things that merited investigation. Steyn is starting to look Quixotic. This is not good. He is right about many things. He needs to husband his credibility.

As for the Black conviction, the government might have been better served by a shorter trial on just the counts for which Black was eventually convicted. The bloating of the indictment has made a retrial more likely.

* * *

As for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I have the ending: the last ten pages of the book are dead black ink.

It's a Sopranos reference. Please pay attention.

* * *

I would like to know the story someday about Peggy Noonan and George Bush. She actually is a Bush Family retainer, a former speech writer for President Bush Senior. She has often agreed with the policies of the son, but has never been enthusiastic about the man. In fact, as we saw in her column on Friday, her dearth of enthusiasm seems to wax daily:

I found myself Thursday watching President Bush's news conference and thinking about what it is about him, real or perceived, that makes people who used to smile at the mention of his name now grit their teeth. I mean what it is apart from the huge and obvious issues on which they might disagree with him.

I'm not referring to what used to be called Bush Derangement Syndrome. That phrase suggested that to passionately dislike the president was to be somewhat unhinged. No one thinks that anymore...

Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president's since polling began. He's in a good mood. Discuss.

Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he's right and you're wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington to Baghdad that the American president is neither beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can't sit around and moan. But it doesn't look like an act. People would feel better to know his lack of success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.

A surprising feature of the president's almost complete loss of credibility is that there has been no corresponding increase of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Some people became deranged about Bush as soon as the electoral deadlock developed in Florida in 2000. They still are, but it is not obvious to me that their numbers have increased or their sentiments spread. The Bush Effect is not outrage but anesthesia. The president has succeeded in politically immobilizing every element of the electorate, indeed almost every institution, that supported him for other than purely self-interested economic reasons. This effect is not because of the war; the nomination of Harriet Meiers to the Supreme Court cost him more base support than the war has. The president's problem is that, like Mark Steyn, he does not understand that some of his enthusiasms undercut the others.

The interesting question is whether the deadened political tissue will reanimate when something bad happens and the government needs popular support.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!