Friday, November 28, 2003

King Bush?

Matthew Yglesias isn't very charitable about President Bush's little trip to Iraq:

Scanning around the web, it seems to me that too many of my liberal colleagues are willing to give the president credit for today's little stunt supporting the troops. Consider, however, whether you think that the leaders of the Democratic Party would have been wildly opposed to taking a little Thanksgiving-time trip of their own to pose with the troops for photo ops. Seems to me that they would love to have done that. But they weren't invited. And not only were they not invited, but the planning for the trip was kept secret so that they couldn't protest at not being invited. Result: Many photos of GOP supporting troops, zero photos of Democrats supporting troops. Very good outcome for the president.
Matt has a point, but the problem is endemic to the system, not to Bush himself. Bush was visiting them as a candidate next year, yes, but also as the President of the United States, with all the ceremonial importance that that entails. It's not that different from when the royal family met with people in the rubble of London during the Blitz, and the Queen Mother was (justifiably) adored for that.

The problem isn't the visit. The problem is that you can't extricate the President's role as Head of State from his role as Head of Government, so every ceremonial duty and benefit that accrues from the former can be used to aid his use of- and retention of- the power of the latter. Were the presidency a symbolic role like the British Queen, it wouldn't be an issue, but the symbolic leader and the man who gives the military its orders are one and the same. It wouldn't matter whether his name is Bush, Clinton, Kennedy or Washington.

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