April 22, 2006
October Surprise in Preparation

Surprise! John Dean, Da Man, is predicting an October Surprise.

There are several things to like about Dean’s columns.

  • Like a soldier who’s seen combat, Dean’s been under heavy fire, so he’s not easily frightened. And he seems to have made something of a mission of speaking truth that power doesn’t want spoken.
  • He’s a real lawyer. He puts his cases straightforwardly and bases them on fact and logic. He doesn’t avoid the emotional issues, but he doesn’t expect persuasion to cover for poor fundamentals.
  • He’s a lively and intelligent writer: “This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we’ve moved on to another.”
  • He hasn’t lost his dream of America, and he hasn’t dulled his anger at the discrepancy between it and reality. In this he reminds me of my favorite political writers, the Greider/Hersh/Fallows type.

Dean previously described the classification system invented by James David Barber for his book The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Originally published in 1972, it’s been updated four times and republished.

While no system is infallible, and typologies have their weaknesses, Barber’s prophetic results have proven extraordinary, for he has been uncannily prescient with his method. He takes five common elements — character, worldview, style, power situations, and climate of expectations — and using these elements he has assembled clusters of presidents since Theodore Roosevelt within which he finds a number of repeating baseline characteristics.

Barber proposes two scales for measuring Presidents:

  • Behavior in the job: do they take an activist approach, or let things happen?
  • Attitude toward to the job: do they appear to enjoy the job, or suffer through it?

Thus Barber suggests Presidents can be seen as active/positive (FDR), active/negative (Nixon), passive/positive (Reagan), and passive/negative (Jefferson).

It’s not hard to see where W fits: like Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, he’s active/negative.

Active/negative[s] evaluate themselves “with respect to virtue.” They view their actions (if not the world) as being good or bad. Their “perfectionistic conscience” provides no room for growth through experience, for they expect themselves to be good at all they undertake. Their ethics result in “denial of self-gratification,” for these men see themselves as self-sacrificing rather than self-rewarding. They are “concerned with controlling [their] aggression … reining in [their] anger.”

These presidents are capable of generating “tremendous energies for political domination.” They are also uniquely stubborn men, who become more rigid and inflexible as they proceed, for they become caught up in their own self-righteousness. And as Barber says, they mask their decisions not to budge, their rigidity, in whatever rhetoric is necessary, so that they can ride the tiger to the end. They also are our most secretive presidents.

And how does it usually work out for the active/negative Presidents?

Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.

Which doesn’t bode well for W.

George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.

Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.

And this may be his only option: With Bush’s limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue — as a campaigner — was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear — that he is being questioned, severely, and that staying on-message will be his downfall.

You see what I mean, it’s hard to stop quoting him. But the point of the current article is this:

If there is no “October Surprise,” I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways.

And then there’s the possibility of a terrorist attack.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at April 22, 2006 02:10 AM
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Right on the dot.

Posted by: on April 22, 2006 7:01 AM
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