What were they thinking?

The Bush-Blair news conference yesterday was a double national humiliation with a cherry on top. What were Bush’s handlers thinking, putting him on stage live next to an articulate, thoughtful, and decent national leader who upstaged him every time they opened their mouths? Who left him lamely saying at one point, in effect, “yeah, what he said”, in a pathetic moment of poodle-leash reversal? What were Blair’s people thinking, putting him on stage next to the guy whose incompetence he hitched his reputation and his country to, so everyone could see what a lapse of judgment he made?

Bush finally admitted two mistakes! And it was entirely appropriate and a fair summary of the state of things that the first he came up with was rhetorical (talking too tough) and only mattered in “certain parts of the world”, and the second he instantly sloughed off onto someone else (Abu Ghraib). Entirely appropriate, too, that it took him three years to figure out “bring it on”, among his zillion ‘big hat, no cattle’ moments. This is not an administration that lacks for real, on-the-ground, body-count, blunders and failures, indeed, looking around at the wreckage recalls TV footage of the lower 9th ward: is there anything to salvage…that tricycle, maybe, could be fixed up? But leave it to W to think the only thing he did wrong was a hasty choice of words, once.

“…only thing he did wrong”, because he instantly pointed out that he didn’t do Abu Ghraib; that one just “happened”, and “the people who committed those acts were…tried and convicted”, so it doesn’t count anyway. Five and a half years of incompetence, fecklessness, and cowardice and someone thinks an event like this will make him look good; incredible. Can mindedness, finally, be at a scale that justifies the prefix nano?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

8 thoughts on “What were they thinking?”

  1. I hate to say this, but given the "nano" memories of the American public and their desire to make everything nice again, he may have done what was needed: one teeny apology that handlers can point to. Just as the destructive child is taught to say, "I'm sorry" and everything that happened is canceled and forgiven.

  2. Watching some of the coverage on BBC was pretty funny too. They explained that the reason that Tony Blair hasn't picked up the medal of freedom he was awarded a long time ago from the Bush Administration was because they haven't given the US mint a template for what should go on it.

  3. Every time I watch those two appear together, I find myself thinking involuntarily of George and Lenny in "Of Mice and Men". "Tell me again about the war, Tony…"

  4. I think involuntarily about FDR and Churchill, and feel the need for a largish dose of bourbon. I'll try your frame.

  5. I noticed that the tone of Bush's voice (except, notably, when talking about Abu Ghraib) has become whiny & defensive. Maybe those are the only soundbites getting picked up these days… or maybe that's the way a 30% president sounds.
    I'll give a special prize to any report on Bush's regrets that uses the headline: "Bring It Off."

  6. Good Points. I had to reminded about the REAL mistakes: pre-emptive war, fantasy identification of WMDs, not having an exit strategy, not having accurate intelligence about how the troops would be received, not having enough troops, and sending combatants rather than MPs.
    Nano-intelligence. Sounds true.

  7. "Bush finally admitted two mistakes!"
    No, he didn't. I mean, yeah, he admitted the mistakes, but it's the same old, same old.
    He said the exact same thing a year ago. I'm amazed so many people think he said anything new!

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