The Salesman-in-Chief

Before I understood him, George Bush used to make me really angry. I got into the habit of reading his major speeches online, because I couldn’t stand to watch him on TV. Merely hearing his name might cause me to grit my teeth. Now those days are over.

No, I haven’t yet seen the err of my liberal ways. But I’ve come to an understanding of the man, one I think I can live with until 2008. I still wish he weren’t my president, and I’ll keep telling people why they should oppose his policies. But I think my blood pressure will be lower.

My mistake, which I made almost every day from the 2000 campaign until just a few weeks ago, was to think of him as a leader. Consequently, I always expected better from him than he delivered. I lived in perpetual disappointment, and that made me angry.

My bad. George W. Bush is not a leader, he's a salesman. Once you understand that, everything else falls into place.

Let me explain the difference. A leader builds his followers’ trust by delivering reliable facts, making accurate predictions, and admitting his mistakes promptly. President Bush, on the other hand, gives us hype rather than facts, makes incredibly bad predictions, and has never ever admitted a mistake.

I know, I know: What about Bill I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman Clinton? He wasn’t exactly trustworthy, was he?

Yes and no. President Clinton consistently lied to us about things which, in my opinion, were none of our business. (If Hillary was satisfied with his story, who was I to complain?) But as an overseer of the public business, Bill was a pretty straight shooter. During his administration, budgets didn’t omit hundreds of billions for an off-the-books war; government-issued scientific reports were written by scientists; medals of freedom didn’t go to major-league screw-ups like George Tenet; and journalists weren’t secretly paid to give the administration favorable coverage. It was a simpler, more honest era.

But forget about leadership for a minute. Has a salesman ever tried to sell you an insurance policy, a used car, or a time-share condo? He gives you a reason to buy the product, and if you don’t like that reason he gives you another one. And another one, and another one after that. The reasons may or may not be based on facts, they may directly contradict what he’s telling someone else, and they may even contradict each other. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you buy the product.

That’s been the Bush pattern from Day One. Remember the tax cuts? We needed them because there was a surplus. No surplus? We need them to create jobs. No jobs? We need them ... I forget why we need them just now. I’m sure there’s a reason. Or two or three.

Then came Iraq. Our invasion was supposed to eliminate al Qaeda bases - except al Qaeda didn’t have any bases in Iraq. It was supposed to destroy Saddam’s WMDs - except Saddam had no WMDs. It was supposed to intimidate the other wheels on the Axis of Evil - North Korea and Iran are so intimidated that they’re going all-out to build nukes. It was supposed to lower the price of oil - which has doubled. It was supposed to spread democracy in the Middle East - and look! Iraq had one election, which may even result in the formation of a government, which may eventually be able to field a force to help us beat back the insurgency our invasion caused! Success!

The latest product is privatized Social Security. Old people should support it because it doesn’t change anything. Young people should support it because it’s revolutionary. Blacks should support it because they have below-average life expectancies. Asians should support it because they have above-average life expectancies. The poor should support it because they’ll be able to control their nest egg and leave it to their heirs. The rich shouldn't worry about the poor becoming indigent geezers, because they’ll be forced to buy non-transferable annuities when they retire.

It slices! It dices! It’s everything you could ever want a product to be! Now how much would you pay?

If we expected anything else out of George W. Bush, we were foolish. His whole business career pointed in this direction. He was good at convincing people to invest in his companies, not at running them. The one time he made money for his investors (as president of the Texas Rangers) he did it by convincing the taxpayers to shell out for a new stadium, not by fielding a winning team. Salesmanship - it’s all he’s ever done.

Being angry with President Bush is like shaking your fist at the ginsu-knife ads. The guy pitching time-shares isn’t evil, his job description just doesn’t include helping you make wise choices. If you buy a war and wind up with thousands dead and hundreds of billions in debt, don’t blame the President. He’s just doing his job - selling the product.

Whose product? It’s an interesting question, but I don’t ever expect to know. Who makes ginsu knives?

Doug Muder

March, 2005

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